The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates the night before Thanksgiving to be one of the most dangerous of the year. This night, known as “Black Wednesday,” yields higher levels of DUI arrests than almost any other time. Police are well aware of this fact and often set up DUI checkpoints to catch offenders.
DUI checkpoints are legal so long as they meet certain requirements. The legality of the checkpoint depends upon:
The length of the stop;
The type of warnings given to drivers as they approach the checkpoint;
Whether the checkpoint had prior administrative approval;
How the location of the checkpoint was decided;
Which vehicles were stopped.
A DUI checkpoint may be legally avoided provided you make a proper traffic maneuver. For example, you may make a legal U-turn or a turn onto a side street to avoid being stopped. What if an officer sees you make this turn? Don’t be surprised if you are stopped; however, according to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, “an officer’s mere hunch that an intoxicated motorist is seeking to avoid the checkpoint is insufficient [for a traffic stop.]” In short, as long as you are making a legal turn, the police cannot pull you over for avoiding the checkpoint.
If you cannot legally avoid the checkpoint, you may be stopped by an officer. If the officer detects the odor of alcohol or a controlled substance, you will be directed to a secondary checkpoint area to be asked questions or subjected to field sobriety tests. If stopped, you may decline to answer any questions. This is your constitutional right and one which I counsel my clients to use.
If the officer suspects you are under the influence, they may request that you submit to a breath or a blood test. You may refuse this request; however, Pennsylvania law carries mandatory license suspensions for a refusal. Additionally, there may be many reasons why breath or blood testing results are inadmissible. The test may have been administered improperly, the machine may be calibrated incorrectly or your body type may not comport with the machine’s testing requirements.
If you are subjected to a DUI checkpoint, contact my office to discuss your options. Have a happy and safe holiday.