Last year, 273 Georgia drivers were arrested for DUI over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Many of these drivers were likely stopped, and ultimately arrested, at DUI checkpoints. Police agencies around Georgia use DUI checkpoints year-round to detect what they believe to be impaired drivers. However, use of these checkpoints increases drastically around the holiday season, including Thanksgiving weekend.
So, what is a DUI checkpoint? Essentially, the police block off the road and stop every driver. They typically ask to see the driver’s license and ask them some questions.
But isn’t this an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment? The Fourth Amendment states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
This would seem to indicate that the police cannot search an individual without probable cause and a warrant. If the police are stopping every driver, surely this violates the Fourth Amendment, right? Not according to both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Georgia Supreme Court, who have both upheld the constitutionality of vehicle checkpoints. This does not mean, however, that the police can do whatever they want at a checkpoint. There are certain rules they have to follow in order for the roadblock to be deemed constitutional, and you still have rights.
So what are my rights if I’m stopped at a DUI checkpoint?
You do not have to answer any questions. I typically recommend that my clients politely decline to answer any questions asked of them by the police, because the police can use your words and your manner of speaking against you. For example, the police routinely write in their police reports that a person was “belligerent” or if they had “slurred speech.”
You are not required to participate in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. Whether or not the police inform you that these tests are voluntary, you legally cannot be compelled to perform them. Most attorneys who practice DUI law will tell you that these tests are difficult to pass even for a person who is not under the influence, and that they were designed that way. It is generally safer to decline to take them (again, politely).
You should not consent to any searches of your vehicle. While in certain circumstances the police can search your vehicle even without your consent, it is much more difficult to challenge the legality of a search in court if you give the police your permission to search.
Can I turn around to avoid a DUI checkpoint?
You can; however, you should know that this sometimes arouses the suspicion of the police involved in the checkpoint. Often, they will then track the driver down and stop them, even if everything the driver did was perfectly legal. Again, this would seem to violate the Constitution. But in this area, too, the courts give officers a lot of leeway. An officer need only believe in “good faith” that the driver committed an evasive maneuver in order to evade the roadblock in order for the stop to be upheld.
In conclusion, of course, it’s always safer to take a cab or an Uber and avoid contact with the police altogether during this Thanksgiving weekend. If you do get stopped and arrested, please do not hesitate to contact my office today 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a free consultation regarding your Georgia DUI. Please have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.