In Alabama, sobriety checkpoints are an unfortunate reality for motorists.
They are inconvenient, invasive, costly for taxpayers, dangerous to motorists, and not effective in deterring drunk drivers. But they pay overtime to law enforcement – and so are a favorite tool of local police agencies.
Previous challenges regarding the constitutionality of their very existence have been unsuccessful, so it seems they are here to stay.
Alabama is one of 38 states, plus the District of Columbia, to permit sobriety checkpoints and unlike some other places, state law doesn't restrict how many can be held monthly or annually.
However, our Birmingham DUI defense attorneys know that law enforcement agencies are quite restricted in their actions during these operations. That doesn't mean, of course, that each officer or agency always adheres perfectly to these stringent requirements – which means you may have a better chance of having your DUI case dismissed than you think.
While each case is going to be different, some of the most common defenses in these scenarios include:
- The supervising officer or officers were not present or in charge of checkpoint operations;
- There was no adequate warning of an upcoming checkpoint;
- There were no available routes for a driver to turn away from the checkpoint if he or she chose;
- They can't be set up at random, without any other DUI deterrent efforts in place with total disregard for the need for such an operation at that location;
- Officials didn't properly notify the public in advance of the checkpoint.
- Authorities did not consistently maintain a proper, randomized system to stop vehicles.
It's worth noting that if you choose to turn around and drive away from a sobriety checkpoint, you can't be legally stopped for doing so. Officers can only stop you if you commit a traffic violation or display some obvious sign of intoxication.
Even though the primary goal of a DUI checkpoint is to remove intoxicated drivers from the road, police are looking for evidence of any criminal activity when you are stopped. They are going to look to see if you seem nervous. Do you fumble with your license and vehicle registration? Do you smell like alcohol? Are there any alcoholic beverages, drugs or drug paraphernalia visible in the vehicle? Is your speech slurred? Eyes watery? Is there any other sign of intoxication present?
They will try to get you to answer as many questions as possible. Bear in mind that you are not obligated to answer any questions at all.
If an officer singles you out for a more thorough questioning or search, he or she has to have some probable cause to do so.
Any chemical testing that takes place on site has to be fast and efficient. Per implied consent laws, if you do not submit to a breathalyzer test at a checkpoint, you could automatically lose your license. However, you can decline field sobriety tests without penalty. These tests are often highly subjective and usually only end up being used against you.
Blood testing and vehicle searches cannot be conducted without a warrant. Be warned that a magistrate may be on site to sign those warrants if an officer really wants to obtain one quickly, and you could be forced to submit. It won't necessarily stop you from being arrested, but your clear refusal will be an important part of having the evidence later suppressed if it turns out officers didn't follow the law.
As with any encounter with police, do your best to maintain your composure and remain polite, no matter how the officer treats you. This will almost always work in your favor.