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Your Rights at a DUI Checkpoint in DC

If you are stopped at a checkpoint in Washington, DC the following is information on what rights you possess, and when a checkpoint may be a violation of those rights. For more information or to learn more about checkpoints in DC, call and schedule a consultation with a DC DUI lawyer today.

Difference Between a DUI Stop and a Checkpoint

A major difference between a DUI checkpoint and a normal DUI stop is that in a normal DUI stop the officer would need to have reasonable suspicion to be able to conduct a stop. They need reasonable suspicion for the stop to be consistent with a person’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from any unreasonable searches or seizures.

In a DUI checkpoint, the court has established certain rules so DUI checkpoints do not violate a person’s Fourth Amendment rights as long as they follow a certain number of requirements.

First, they need to be based on a predetermined sequence and all officers must follow the sequence. That means if the officers are stopping every fourth vehicle while going through the sequence and then look at the fifth vehicle and say, “You know what, we are going to stop this car too”, that violates the Fourth Amendment because it was not based on a predetermined sequence.

Your Legal Rights At a DUI Stop

When you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint, you are not required to answer any questions or do anything that can incriminate yourself. You always have the opportunity to inform an officer that you are declining to answer any questions and that you would like a lawyer before answering any questions.

Regardless, if an officer has any suspicion that someone may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol after stopping the vehicle, they have the ability to order the individual out of the car so they can conduct additional investigations.

A person does not have the right to decline to get out of the vehicle. However, you always have the right as a driver to ask the officer whether you are being detained and to inform the officer you decline to answer questions or subject yourselves to any form of testing. If you assert your rights in those situations, there is nothing an officer can do to force you to answer any questions.

Even so, an officer can still make an arrest based on probable cause, even if a person declines to answer any questions or declines to submit to any Field Sobriety Test. Probable cause to arrest is a very low standard, and can often be based on nothing more than the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath, slurred speech, or difficulty standing without swaying.

Right to An Attorney

The police are not required to let you call a lawyer. Once you have been stopped at a checkpoint, if you ask whether you can call a lawyer and assert your rights to not answer any questions without a lawyer present, then police officers are required to cease any questioning that could lead to self-incrimination.

However, they are not required to let you call a lawyer when they are on the scene. That is why it is important to invoke your rights to consult with a lawyer. This is not because you will actually be able to call a lawyer on scene but so that can terminate any potential questioning that can result in you incriminating yourself unknowingly.

What Police Need To Do To Make a Checkpoint Legal

Police need to notify the community of checkpoint locations. They need to make checkpoints visible so people know they are going through a checkpoint. The checkpoint procedures must end after the allotted time has passed.

These are all requirements they must follow specifically because checkpoints do not follow the traditional constitutional requirements of reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

That means a driver would have to be made aware of checkpoints through some kind of community notice. That usually happens through notices provided by the police to media, or on the Metropolitan Police Department Facebook Page, Twitter Feed or via other social media.

Can You Just Turn Around And Go The Other Way?

No one can ever be forced to go through a DUI checkpoint. This is why the police need to notify communities where they are doing DUI checkpoints. Once you hit a certain point on the road where you might be leading up to a DUI checkpoint, you will not going to have the ability to go around and go the other way because you won’t be able to turn around at all.

Since the police are required to provide community notification of checkpoint locations, any driver has the option of avoiding those roads during the hours of the checkpoint.  Police would still have the ability to conduct normal traffic stops and DUI investigations at other locations at any time, but those investigations must be consistent with Fourth Amendment requirements.

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