Beware of Increased Sobriety Checkpoints on New Years Eve

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The holidays and New Year bring lots of opportunities for celebrating with friends & family. While I’m sure you have lots of places to be and people to see, especially on New Years Eve, always be smart when travelling from party to party. As you are aware, there are serious consequences to drinking & driving when operating any vehicle, so the best way to avoid a Pennsylvania DUI is simply to not drink and drive.

Law enforcement will be out in force this holiday season, patrolling the roads for impaired drivers. So what is the best way to avoid DUI problems this year? The obvious answer is not to drink and drive. If you must drink, please designate a driver, call a cab, or walk. However, if you do find yourself stopped at a DUI checkpoint, you should be aware of your rights. If the police do not conduct the checkpoint properly, you may be able to successfully fight the charges in court.

So what should you do if you come upon a DUI checkpoint? In Pennsylvania, you may make a legal u-turn or take an alternative route to avoid the DUI checkpoint. The police cannot stop you based on a “mere hunch” that you are trying to avoid the stop. However, you must obey all other traffic laws when trying to circumvent the checkpoint.

It may not be possible to avoid being stopped. If you do find yourself at a checkpoint, open your window enough so that you can speak to the officer and so that you can pass your license, registration, and proof of insurance through the window. Remain calm and polite the entire time. You may decline to answer any questions asked by the officer. If the officer insists on asking you questions, simply repeat – politely – that you would like to speak with an attorney before you answer any questions.

You should also politely refuse to submit to a preliminary breath test at the scene and refuse to take any field sobriety tests. You are under no obligation to perform for the police and cannot be detained simply for refusing to submit to these tests. This does not guarantee that you will not be arrested for driving under the influence. However, it will be much easier to challenge any charges in court if you limit the amount of evidence that can be brought against you.

Likewise, you should not agree to submit to a search of your vehicle or personal belongings. If the police ask for permission to conduct a search, you should ask whether you are free to leave. Unless there is an articulable suspicion that that crime is being committed, the police may not detain you and must allow you to go about your business.

Finally, I have a word of caution regarding testing for blood alcohol content. I have advised you not to submit to a preliminary breath test prior to your arrest at the scene of a DUI checkpoint. However, in Pennsylvania, drivers who refuse to submit to a chemical test of their blood, breath, or urine after they have been arrested will be subject to a one-year license suspension, whether they are guilty of a crime or not. Furthermore, drivers who refused to take the test and who are subsequently convicted of DUI will be sentenced as if their BAC was in the highest range of intoxication.

The best DUI defense is to avoid arrest altogether. However, if you have been charged with a crime after being stopped at a DUI checkpoint, you should consult with our Pennsylvania DUI lawyers to make sure that your rights are protected. Your case could be dismissed if the police failed to follow the proper checkpoint protocols or if they failed to observe your Constitutional rights.