Q: Under normal circumstances, a law enforcement officer may not stop a driver in traffic unless the officer witnesses a crime or has probable cause to believe that the driver is committing a crime. So how can DUI checkpoints be legal?
A: DUI checkpoints – or “sobriety” checkpoints – represent an exception to the law, but it’s an exception that the U.S. Supreme Court has approved. In 1990, the Supreme Court justices maintained that a state’s obligation to identify and prosecute impaired drivers and to prevent DUI-related accidents supersedes a sobriety checkpoint’s imposition on drivers and their Fourth Amendment right to privacy. Thus, since the 1990 ruling, sobriety checkpoints have been legal, provided that strict rules are followed. However, the issue remains controversial.
Q: Are sobriety checkpoints effective in reducing DUI?
A: Statistics suggest that sobriety checkpoints are ineffective. Most studies show that about one percent of the drivers who pass through sobriety checkpoints are arrested. However, compared to other arrests for DUI, the conviction rates for suspects arrested at sobriety checkpoints are substantially lower. In Nevada, this lower conviction rate is primarily due to the ability of an experienced Nevada DUI lawyer to challenge the legality of the checkpoint. Law enforcement agencies must adhere to numerous rules and procedures when conducting sobriety checkpoints.
Q: Are checkpoints used by police departments everywhere?
A: Despite the 1990 Supreme Court decision, twelve states do not permit sobriety checkpoints based on the laws of those states or on a state court’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Sobriety checkpoints may not be conducted in Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, or Wyoming.
Q: What rules do police departments have to follow when conducting sobriety checkpoints?
A: The police must make a concerted and comprehensive effort to inform drivers about when and where sobriety checkpoints will be operational. The time and place of a sobriety checkpoint must be adequately publicized in advance of the operation. Advance publicity regarding a sobriety checkpoint is presumed to increase the deterrent effect on drivers while reducing the “obtrusive” impact.
Q: How do the police decide where a sobriety checkpoint will be established?
A: The times and locations of the checkpoints are to be determined by police administrators rather than patrol officers. Police agencies like to operate DUI checkpoints on weekends and on “celebratory” occasions like Halloween, Super Bowl Sunday, Independence Day, and New Year’s Eve. The choices for sobriety checkpoint locations are supposed to be based on factors that include:
- The number of DUI arrests in the vicinity is statistically significant.
- The location must be such that the checkpoint is clearly visible to approaching drivers.
- The location is safe for both drivers and for law enforcement personnel.
Q: Is every vehicle subject to a stop at a sobriety checkpoint?
A: Theoretically, yes, but in practice, other methods have emerged to ensure that checkpoints are conducted fairly. The courts have ruled that the driver of every car can be stopped or that a pre-determined formula for avoiding discrimination will be used. For example, the police may stop and question every fourth driver, or every vehicle with an odd-numbered license plate.
Q: What if I don’t want to pass through a checkpoint?
A: A sobriety checkpoint must be set up so that a driver can clearly see it in advance and have the chance to avoid it. Avoiding a sobriety checkpoint does not give the police probable cause to stop you. You may not make an illegal U-turn (or any other illegal maneuver) to avoid a checkpoint. You may choose to make a quick turn and go around a DUI checkpoint, but in practice, law enforcement agencies typically monitor and then follow those drivers who turn and proceed in a different direction.
Q: What rights do I have if I am stopped at a sobriety checkpoint?
A: If the police officers have adhered to the law for conducting the checkpoint, they still must have a reasonable suspicion that a driver is intoxicated in order to detain that driver. A reasonable suspicion could be based on any number of factors such as poor driving, an odor of alcohol on the driver’s breath, empty alcohol containers, bloodshot eyes, or slurred speech.
Q: Do I have to submit to testing?
A: Taking a preliminary DUI test is not required by the law in many states, but “implied consent” is part of the Nevada DUI laws. If you have a Nevada driver’s license, or if you merely drive in the state of Nevada, you have legally implied that you consent to submit to a blood, breath, or urine examination for DUI if a police officer asks you to take one. In some states, you may legally refuse to be tested for DUI until you are formally arrested, but Nevada does not give DUI suspects that choice. Nevada even lets police officers use “reasonable force” to acquire a DUI test result from you.
Q: What are the consequences of a DUI conviction in Nevada?
A: A first DUI conviction in Nevada is punishable with a mandatory minimum sentence of 48 hours in jail and a maximum jail sentence of six months. If sentenced to the 48 hours, offenders may serve the hours as community service. The fine for a first DUI conviction in Nevada ranges from $400 to $1000, but that does not include the expenses associated with DUI classes, driver’s license reinstatement, and additional fees and costs. Another result of a first DUI conviction in Nevada is a mandatory 90-day “administrative” driver’s license suspension. License reinstatement requires a fee and an SR22 form to show proof of insurance.
Q: What is important to remember about sobriety checkpoints?
A: The police are human, and they make mistakes like everyone else, so anyone who is arrested at a Nevada DUI checkpoint should promptly contact a knowledgeable Nevada DUI lawyer. To be legal and valid in the state of Nevada, a sobriety checkpoint must be properly set up by the law enforcement agency and must be conducted in a manner that is consistent with the law and with the pertinent rulings of the Nevada courts. If the sobriety checkpoint does not meet the legal guidelines, the evidence that was gathered may be challenged in court. If you have had an altercation with law enforcement and need criminal defense representation, the Fletcher Firm is at your service.