Every holiday season, Georgia sees a spike in DUI arrests. This is due in part to widespread use of police roadblocks. Different agencies may call them different things – DUI Checkpoints, Vehicle Safety Checkpoints, etc. But the way the function is basically the same: police stop every vehicle and check for certain things. Click here to learn more about the constitutionality of roadblocks. During the holidays they’re mostly checking for impaired drivers but they may also be looking for invalid licenses, registrations, seat belts, unsafe vehicles, people fleeing from the police, undocumented immigrants, etc. The stated purpose of the checkpoint is a bit of legal pretext, because if you cast a wide enough net you’re bound to get at least a few people breaking the law.
So, Georgia driver, what should you know if you come upon a police roadblock?
1. You should not consent to a search of your vehicle. If they have probable cause to believe you are committing a crime, the police may search your vehicle anyway, but for the most part, giving consent means you give up your ability to challenge the legality search later. Even if you think you have nothing to hide, you never really know what a friend may have left in your vehicle, for example.
2. Standardized Field Sobriety Testing is voluntary. The police may not tell you this, but you cannot be compelled to perform sobriety testing. Furthermore, these tests are not easy, even for sober people.
3. You are not required to make any statements to the police. Never make any incriminating statements. You can simply say, “I do not wish to make any statements at this time.” During roadblocks, police are looking for certain characteristics such as slurred speech, bloodshot or watery eyes, and/or an odor of alcohol or marijuana.
4. You can ask, “Am I free to leave?” If the police say “yes,” leave as quickly (but as safely) as possible. If they say that you are not free to leave, ask for your attorney. They may not comply immediately, but it’s a good idea to be on record asking for your lawyer.
5. Do not argue or become combative with the police. If you do, you may end up with additional charges (or worse). If you have concerns about your contact with the police, be sure to let your attorney know. It’s a good idea to write down everything you remember about your interaction, because memory fades more quickly than you might think.
6. It is not illegal to turn around when you see a roadblock. However, the police may find this suspicious and send an officer to stop you. They are given a lot of leeway here.
7. Finally, if you are arrested, call your attorney as quickly as possible. Some jurisdictions have court first thing Monday morning for arrests that occur over the weekend, so time is of the essence. I am always available to help in such situations, so be sure to give me a call.