What are Your Rights at a DUl Checkpoint?

An aggressive St. Patrick’s Day weekend of anti-DUI enforcement, which included multiple police roadblocks throughout Chicagoland, ended with lots of people wearing jailhouse orange instead of Irish green. Now, as the calendar inches closer to May, police are no doubt planning another slew of checkpoints for Memorial Day Weekend.

DUI roadblocks are a staple in Illinois. MADD, one of the most aggressive anti-DUI advocacy groups in the Midwest, believes that roadside checkpoints are one of the best ways to reduce the number of of drunk driving incidents. Roadblocks are also popular with officers, who often receive overtime pay when they staff checkpoints. Moreover, they are a break from their everyday routines and an opportunity to work with new officers.

Checkpoints are also popular with policymakers, and if it were not for the rather high expense (DUI roadblocks cost an average of $10,000 a day) and a growing shortage of grant money, many parts of Chicago would probably host a checkpoint every weekend.

Given the prevalence of DUI roadblocks, it is important to know how this enforcement tool affects your case and what to do when you approach or go through a checkpoint.

The Law Behind Checkpoints

Until the United States Supreme Court decided Michigan State Police v. Sitz in 1990, roadblock law was a hodgepodge of state laws and court decisions. What was legal in one location might be illegal a little farther down the road. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice William Rehnquist declared that DUI checkpoints were legal so long as they balanced the interests of the state in enforcing DUI laws with the driver’s right to privacy.

Pragmatically, that works out to the following checklist:

  • Supervisor Level Decision: Everything about the checkpoint, from the location and hours of operation to the rules that are used, must come from on high.
  • Neutral Formula: Officers cannot stop cars that “look suspicious” and wave other ones through. Instead, the rules must designate a formula, like stopping one car out of every three, and adhere to that formula for the duration of the checkpoint.
  • Safety Precautions: There must be signs, lights, and other clear indicators that the location is a DUI checkpoint and not a souped-up speed trap.
  • Minimize Wait Times: In Sitz, the Supreme Court held that 25 seconds was not an unreasonable amount of time, so a half-minute is probably the dividing line between reasonable and unreasonable.
  • Advanced Notice: There is no real consistency here, but most courts have ruled that the checkpoint is constitutional if the police make a good-faith effort to advertise the checkpoint before it goes up (e.g. they send a press release to local media outlets) and the signage at the scene gives motorists the opportunity to turn around.

Any noncompliance is normally fatal to the checkpoint, although some courts allow a little more leeway in the publicity department.

What to Do at Checkpoints

Even the American Civil Liberties Union says that comply now and complain later is usually a good approach when dealing with police officers, whether during a traffic stop, at a DUI checkpoint, or any other venue. Anything further usually antagonizes officers, and that is a situation no one wants. So,

  • Turn on the dome light,
  • Roll down the driver’s side window, and
  • Keep your hands on the wheel until the officer asks for license and insurance.

You are under no obligation to furnish any information that is not on your driving documentation, so politely refuse to answer any questions. Furthermore, unless the officer says you are under arrest, you have the right to refuse a search of your car.

Contact Aggressive Attorneys

Police officers and drivers should adhere to the rules at DUI checkpoints. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.

(image courtesy of Charlie Deets)

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