Chances are at some point over the holidays, Maryland law enforcement will establish a sobriety checkpoint. These controversial methods of deterring drunk drivers are legal in most states thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which declared that the benefits of a checkpoint outweigh any risk of violating a driver's Fourth Amendment rights.
Nevertheless, the legality of a DUI roadblock does not grant carte blanche to law enforcement, and the federal government established strict guidelines for officers to follow to avoid violating your rights.
The U.S. Constitution grants citizens freedom from unreasonable searches. Sobriety checkpoints walk a fine line around that freedom. Essentially, police are looking for signs that you are breaking the law, but to avoid civil rights violations, they must follow specific rules, including these:
- Police must publicize that a checkpoint will be in progress at a certain date and time, although they may not necessarily disclose the location.
- Roadblocks must occur in logical places, such as a street with a history of DUI accidents.
- Any decisions regarding the roadblock operations must come from supervisors, not from field officers.
- Officers must stop vehicles in a predetermined order, such as every third vehicle, to avoid the appearance of discrimination.
- Safety precautions must be in place to avoid an accident at the scene of the roadblock.
- Signs and other warnings must give drivers adequate notice that a checkpoint is ahead.
If you approach a checkpoint and an officer waves you over, the time police delay you should last no longer than the average traffic light. You can expect an officer to request your driver's license, and he or she may run your tags for violations. The officer may also engage you in conversation while casually looking into your vehicle for contraband and observing you for signs of intoxication.
You do not have to answer any questions other than providing your identification, especially if police ask if you have been drinking. If officers ask you to submit to a field sobriety test, such as walking a straight line, you have the right to refuse to do so as well as the right to refuse a preliminary breath test. However, you will likely be arrested, and you may not refuse a breath or blood test at this point without suffering additional penalties.
If a DUI checkpoint goes badly for you this holiday, you have every reason to be concerned. A DUI conviction can have serious and long-term consequences. Seeking the advice and representation of a skilled Maryland attorney is a wise first step.