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Friday, January 30, 2015

Sobriety Check-Points

What Should I Do at a Sobriety Check-point?

Sobriety check-points occur when police shut down a roadway, observe drivers to see if there are any signs of intoxication or other legal violations and randomly question motorists. This is a method commonly used by the police to arrest intoxicated drivers.  Although the method is perfectly legitimate, police must abide by certain laws when conducting a sobriety checkpoint.

The U.S. Supreme Court set the rules for these checkpoints in a Michigan case, Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz. In this case, a number of motorists challenged the constitutionality of check-points set up by the Michigan State Police. Of the 126 motorists passing through the check-point, three motorists were asked to pull over. The Court decided that the check-point was not an overwhelming intrusion on individual's right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment.

The court ruled that whether such a check point violated the rights of motorists should be determined by balancing a number of factors.  These include the state's interest in preventing accidents caused by drunk drivers, the effectiveness of the check- points in reaching that goal, and  the level of intrusion on a driver’s constitutional right to privacy caused by the check-point.

When there is a check-point drivers need to be put on notice of its purpose and there must be a way for drivers to avoid it safely if they wish to do so. If the driver does not want to go through such a checkpoint, for whatever reason, there should be a way to drive around or away from it.

Police, strictly speaking, do not have the right to check driver's licenses or registrations if the stop is not caused by a violation of the law. However, if there is reasonable suspicion of illegal conduct they may ask for these documents.
A driver never needs to consent to a police search of his or her person or vehicle. There may be such a search, without this consent, when there is probable cause to believe a vehicle contains contraband or the “fruits or instrumentalities” of a crime, when the driver is under arrest or when after looking at passenger compartment from outside the vehicle, illegal articles are in plain view.

If you drive through such a check-point, it makes sense to cooperate. Failing to roll down your window when asked may give the officer a reason to pull you over.  You can politely refuse to answer the officer's questions as admissions of drinking or being intoxicated can be used against you. You can also refuse to perform field sobriety tests. If you choose to do this, the officer can either decide that there is not enough evidence to arrest you or ask that you take a chemical test by breath or blood. Such tests may provide evidence leading to a DUI arrest, but a refusal has its own consequences (a license suspension).

If you are facing DUI or other charges due to a police check-point, call Michigan criminal defense attorney Martin T. Lievois in Troy at (248)419-1566 or in Flint at (810)250-2550. 


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