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Sobriety Checkpoints: What Are Your Rights?

Legal Blog

Facing sobriety checkpoints is always unnerving, even when you haven’t had a drop to drink. Flashing lights, badges, guns, and questions from police can make your heart race and your palms sweat on the wheel. Find out how best to handle a sobriety checkpoint to protect your rights and your future.

What are Sobriety Checkpoints?

Sobriety checkpoints are police traffic stops†where officers are set up on a roadway to stop vehicles to check for drug or alcohol-impaired drivers arbitrarily. These are frequently set up amid times when driving under the influence is known to happen, for example, on holidays or late on weekend nights.

What Happens During Sobriety Checkpoints?

Studies have shown the practice of setting up sobriety checkpoints has been a useful tool to discourage drunk driving. These checkpoints usually involve several police officers who park their police cars on either side of a road.

With the police cars’ lightbars flashing, they stop and interview each car as it comes down the road. They sometimes also use traffic cones or other portable reflective signs to indicate that traffic must stop at this point. Drivers are usually asked to lower their windows and produce their driver’s licenses, proof of insurance, and registration. The officer may ask some questions to evaluate your current state of sobriety.

If an officer suspects a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, further investigation may ensue. The officer at that point conducts a battery of sobriety tests onsite. These tests may include physical coordination tests such as standing on one leg, walking a straight line, or touching your nose with one finger with arms outstretched. Mental coherency tests may also be conducted, such as counting or saying the alphabet backward.

If the driver fails those tests, the officer may ask the driver to perform a breathalyzer test. By law, police officers may not subject drivers to undergo these sobriety tests unless there is valid suspicion of alcohol or drug impairment.

What Signs of DUI do Police Look for at a Sobriety Checkpoint?

  • Signs that may arouse suspicion of impaired driving include:
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurry or bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Inability to speak in complete sentences
  • An odor of alcohol or drugs emanating from the car or the driver
  • Open alcohol containers or drug paraphernalia in the car
  • Inappropriate or suspicious behavior

The Legality of Sobriety Checkpoints

Federal laws and New Jersey laws permit sobriety checkpoints, yet law enforcement officers must follow designated protocols. Checkpoints cannot be randomly set up. Supervisors must authorize the planning and conduct of the checkpoint ahead of time. That means police officers are not allowed to set up a sobriety check randomly at will to surprise the public. Quite the opposite.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety have†both instituted guidelines to make sobriety checkpoints very visible and give the public notice of DUI checkpoints to help raise awareness. When people know ahead of time that officers will be out conducting sobriety checkpoints, they are more conscientious about refraining from driving under the influence.

Advice for Getting Through a Sobriety Checkpoint

Most people assume they have no choice but to answer all questions and participate in all tests at a sobriety checkpoint. This is not the case. You must provide documentation requested, including your vital information. However, you don’t have to answer other questions. You can also refuse to allow officers to inspect your vehicle.

If you find yourself entering into a New Jersey sobriety checkpoint, you can assert your rights not to participate. The National Motorists Association has offered a written Assertion of Rights. They recommend that you do unroll your window, but instead of conversing with officers, present them with your Assertion of Rights document.

These rights include:

  • Demanding that your lawyer is present before answering any questions
  • Invoking and exercising your Miranda rights if police arrest you
  • Reasonable opportunity to secure property if taken into custody
  • Asserting your desire to leave the scene if you are not under arrest.

Motorists.org offers a printable PDF document you can keep in your wallet or glove compartment to present when police stop you in any roadblock.

What to do if You’re Arrested at a DUI Checkpoint

There are rules that law enforcement officers must adhere to when conducting arrests at DUI checkpoints. Did police neglect to follow these rules? The arrest is not valid and a judge could throw the charges out in court.

For example, when police perform physical field sobriety tests, they must take place on a level, well-paved stretch of pavement. This way it ensures that uneven surfaces did not negatively impact the outcome.

Law officers must calibrate breathalyzer machines to exact specifications. The officer who performs the breath test must be certified to do so. Breathalyzer machines that haven’t been properly maintained and calibrated could give a false-positive reading.

Where to Get Legal Assistance When You’re Arrested at a DUI Checkpoint

Sobriety checkpoints don’t have to result in a conviction. If the police have placed you under arrest at a sobriety checkpoint in New Jersey, call the Law Offices of Douglas Herring at 609-321-8060. Available 24 hours a day, you can get a free consultation from our experienced legal experts to help you develop a strong defense.

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