Every so often, usually before a holiday weekend, Tampa-area law enforcement agencies announce that they will be setting up DUI checkpoints. A lot of people get uncomfortable with the idea of the police stopping vehicles and looking for reasons to arrest the drivers. It seems to go against the principles that the Bill of Rights lays out. How are DUI checkpoints legal?
In this country, a police officer is not supposed to stop a driver unless they have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the motorist is committing a crime or has just done so. But there are exceptions to this law. And DUI checkpoints are one of those, at least in Florida. Many other states forbid checkpoints.
Officers must follow the rules
Courts allow DUI checkpoints as long as the police or sheriff’s department follows certain rules. These requirements include:
- Officers at the checkpoint must follow a pre-determined procedure for deciding whom to pull over. This must be more than following a “hunch” or only pulling over drivers who “look suspicious.” Pulling over every third vehicle is an example of an acceptable procedure.
- The traffic stops must be as brief as possible, and drivers cannot be detained without arrest for an unreasonable time.
- The agency must post signs alerting drivers that a DUI checkpoint is ahead.
- The checkpoint must be reasonable. For example, it cannot cause a large traffic backup.
From the perspective of someone arrested for DUI at a checkpoint, the consequence of the officers not following the rules might be getting the charges dropped. Criminal court judges tend to take these violations very seriously. If you and your defense attorney have evidence that the police did not follow proper procedures, the court could order evidence gathered at the checkpoint (such as the results of a breath test and field sobriety tests) thrown out.