At certain times of the year, Pennsylvania law enforcement likes to set up DUI checkpoints and roadblocks to catch suspected drunk drivers. You may find their methods dubious, but if you are arrested as a result of a lawful stop, you can be in serious legal jeopardy. For more information on how sobriety checkpoints work in Pittsburgh, please read on, then contact The Law Offices of George Heym today.
What Constitutes a Lawful Stop?
At first blush, it may appear that DUI checkpoints and roadblocks violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. However, both the United States Supreme Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have found these police tactics constitutional, so long as the DUI roadblock or checkpoint meets the following requirements:
- Police may only stop a vehicle briefly at a DUI checkpoint
- Police may not search a vehicle stopped at a checkpoint, nor may they search the occupants of a vehicle
- The decision to establish a DUI checkpoint, as well as decisions about location and scheduling, must come from the administrators of a police department, not individual officers
- Police must have objective criteria developed by police administrators for deciding which vehicles to stop at a DUI checkpoint
- Individual officers should not have discretion as to which cars to stop
- Police administrators should use historical data about DUI incidents to determine where to place checkpoints
- Police must publicly announce the time and location of DUI checkpoints in advance
What Constitutes an Unlawful Stop?
The court will determine that the checkpoint was unlawful if law enforcement does not meet the above-listed criteria. As such, the court will suppress any evidence law enforcement obtained during and after the stop.
What are my Rights When I’m Stopped at a Sobriety Checkpoint in PA?
If law enforcement requests that you take a field sobriety test or a preliminary breath test at the checkpoint, Pennsylvania law gives you the option to refuse. Furthermore, you have the right to politely refuse to answer if the police ask you any questions other than:
- Your name
- Registration, or
- Proof of insurance
Please bear in mind that a refusal to submit to a lawful request for chemical testing, when mandated by Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law, may bring consequences separate from a DUI.
What are the Do’s and Don’ts for Behavior at a Sobriety Checkpoint?
If law enforcement stops you at a lawful DUI checkpoint, you should observe the following do’s and don’ts:
- Have documentation ready: Get your driver’s license, insurance, registration, and other documentation ready, so that if the officer asks for it, he or she can’t claim that you were “fumbling” for it.
- Have some patience: Considering that the purpose of a DUI checkpoint is to keep the roads safer for you and other drivers, you should be considerate and polite to the officers you come into contact with.
- Volunteer any information: Regardless of whether you have had a couple of drinks or have not touched a drop of alcohol all day, you should not provide the officer with anything except the basic information he or she asks about.
- Refuse a breath test: If you are not intoxicated, we advise you to submit a breath test, which, though unpleasant, will demonstrate your sobriety.
What Happens if I Refuse to Take a Breathalyzer Test?
As we alluded to above, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has an Implied Consent Law. Under this law, any person who drives the highways and/or traffic ways of Pennsylvania is deemed to have given his or her consent to one or more tests of his or her breath or blood. Of course, this requirement only applies if law enforcement legally detains the driver for suspicion of driving under the influence.
Keep in mind that even if a trier of fact, i.e., a judge or jury, acquits you of the underlying DUI charge, you will still have your driver’s license suspended for a period of time ranging between twelve and eighteen months if you refuse to submit to the breathalyzer test when Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law mandates you to. You may also face more severe penalties regarding ignition interlock devices, reinstatement fees, criminal penalties, and the prosecutor using your refusal as evidence at trial.
What should I Do if I Am Arrested for Driving under the Influence at a Sobriety Checkpoint?
If you have the misfortune of being arrested by Pennsylvania law enforcement at a DUI checkpoint, you will fall under Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law. Therefore, you do not have the same right to refuse chemical testing once you are back at the police station. As uncomfortable as this may seem, you should remain polite and courteous to all members of law enforcement. While you must provide certain bits of personal information – as outlined above – you should make no further statements until you have spoken with a competent DUI defense attorney.
Do I need an Attorney if I’m Charged with a DUI in Pittsburgh?
Strictly speaking, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not mandate those charged with driving under the influence, or any other criminal offense, to retain the services of a skilled lawyer. However, not doing so will set you at a supreme disadvantage because prosecutors have every resource they need, not to mention every reason, to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.
In the best-case scenario, a legal representative can produce evidence and/or arguments sufficient to convince a judge to dismiss your charges or accept a plea bargain – wherein you plead guilty to a lesser offense – before your case reaches a courtroom. If your case proceeds to trial, your lawyer will fight for an acquittal. If nothing else, a lawyer will campaign to minimize or eliminate the penalties you face upon conviction.
None of these more favorable possibilities are likely without the intervention of a capable legal professional.
Contact The Law Offices of George Heym
As ridiculous as it may seem, Pennsylvania courts recognize evidence obtained from lawful checkpoints. Contact The Law Offices of George Heym for your free consultation if you face charges resulting from a DUI checkpoint.