Out on Florida's highways, especially at night or on the weekends, law enforcement personnel are setting up more and more sobriety checkpoints in an attempt to catch drunk drivers. While this might seem like a good cause, these traffic stops are notorious for causing a handful of other serious legal issues, such as unlawful search-and-seizures. If you are planning to hit the town with your friends for a drink, there are five things you should know about sobriety checkpoints before you go.
1. Officers Cannot Pick and Choose
The purpose of a sobriety checkpoint is to catch everyone going down that stretch of road during that stretch of time and determine if they are intoxicated while operating their motor vehicle. And that really does mean everyone. If you see some motorists going through the checkpoint without so much as a glance from one of the officers, this could indicate that the traffic stop is not valid.
2. Checkpoints Cannot Be Speed Traps
A speed trap is when an officer waits alongside the road, perhaps in the shade of a tree, and uses a radar gun to catch speeding motorists. They are operating with subtlety, something officers are prohibited from doing at traffic stops. If there are no clear indicators of the sobriety checkpoint coming up ahead, it might not be considered legal in court.
3. Forewarning to All Motorists
In most cases, there must be some public record that speaks of the law enforcements intent to set up a sobriety checkpoint. Oftentimes, this can be found on the sheriff department's website or through road signs a few days ahead of time. If there is no warning of the checkpoint, any stop they make could be deemed unlawful and ultimately unusable.
4. Pulled Over is Not the Same as Arrested
Many drivers start to panic the moment they are asked to pull their vehicle to the side of the road during a sobriety checkpoint. Keep in mind, however, that the officer might want to speak to you further about something entirely unrelated to driving under the influence (DUI) charge. You might have a taillight out, or you could have a car similar to one they are trying to find. Remember: you are not under arrest until the officer says so.
5. Field Sobriety Tests are Optional
If you are asked to step out of your vehicle and perform a field sobriety test, remember that you have the right to refuse without any definite recourse against you. However, if the officer does ask that you take a chemical test (blood, breath, or urine) at any point, due to the "implied consent" law, your refusal will likely result in an immediate revocation of your driver's license.
When everything is said and done, sobriety checkpoints in Florida can be a simple situation if you remember your rights and stay calm. If you are arrested for whatever reason at a traffic stop, though, you need to take legal action as soon as you can. With the help of a Sarasota DUI attorney from The Law Office of Wyndel G. Darville, PLLC, you may be able to have your charges reduced or dismissed.
In my 15+ years of legal experience in Sarasota, during which I have handled more than 150 jury trials, I have learned several ways of dismantling the accusations that bear down on my clients, from proving that the sobriety checkpoint was unlawful to challenging the results of chemical tests. The bottom line is that I am ready and willing to fight on your behalf and pursue justice wherever it is needed most. Schedule your free 30-minute case review to learn about your criminal defense options with my firm.
Contact me today so we can start building a defense against whatever the prosecution tries to throw at you.