If you are an Illinois resident who drives regularly in the state, you will likely come across a sobriety checkpoint at some time or another. For someone who has had more alcohol than he or she should have consumed, these checkpoints can lead to an arrest for driving under the influence. If you have been charged with DUI following a stop at a DUI checkpoint, it's important to know your rights when it comes to these stops. The team of DUI defense attorneys at Dolci & Weiland are dedicated to educating Illinois drivers on their rights with regard to sobriety checkpoints.
An Overview of DUI Checkpoints
Sobriety checkpoints are implemented with safety in mind; by conducting these checkpoints, Illinois hopes to make the state's roads safer to travel by keeping drunk drivers off of them. The purpose of a DUI checkpoint isn't simply to catch people who are driving under the influence of alcohol; these stops also act as a deterrent for drinking and driving in the first place by putting drivers on notice that the checkpoints are present.
Constitutionality of DUI Checkpoints in Illinois
Although sobriety checkpoints have been challenged in other states as violating the Fourth Amendment, the United States Supreme Court has laid down the law on the constitutionality of these stops.
In the 1980s, the state of Michigan instituted a sobriety checkpoint program intended to quell drunk driving. The checkpoints were challenged as being unconstitutional for violating the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement officers. Michigan courts agreed that the checkpoints were unconstitutional.
This decision was short-lived; in Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz (1990), the United States Supreme Court ruled that sobriety checkpoints did not violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. While conceding that a sobriety checkpoint constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment, the Court explained that the checkpoints are not unreasonable.
The Court further stated that "the balance of the State's interest in preventing drunken driving, the extent to which this system can be reasonably said to advance that interest, and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped, weighs in favor of the state program." Thus, the Michigan lower court's finding that these checkpoints were unconstitutional was overruled.
Despite the Supreme Court's ruling, DUI checkpoints don't exist in every state; 12 states still maintain laws which prohibit these checkpoints. Illinois, however, allows sobriety checkpoints as long as law enforcement officers follow certain procedures when conducting the stops.
Law Enforcement Procedures
Officers who conduct DUI checkpoints must follow strict procedures in order for the checkpoints to be in compliance with Illinois law. For example:
- Checkpoints must be publicized in advance: these checkpoints cannot be a surprise; rather, the time and location of DUI checkpoints must be made public before the stops occur.
- Checkpoints and officers must be clearly identified: sobriety checkpoints must be marked with signs, traffic cones, or some other object which identifies the location as a checkpoint. Law enforcement officers who conduct the stops must be in uniform and must use a marked police vehicle.
- Officers must have a plan in place for stopping vehicles: when determining how to pull over vehicles at a sobriety checkpoint, police officers must be neutral and free from any bias. Officers may decide to pull over every fifth vehicle, red vehicles, or some other characteristic that is non-biased.
- Police cannot arrest a driver for DUI without having probable cause: merely being pulled over at DUI checkpoint does not give a police officer a sufficient indication that you are driving under the influence. Just as with any normal traffic stop, an officer cannot arrest a person for DUI without having a reasonable and justifiable basis to believe that the driver is intoxicated.
When it comes to DUI checkpoints, procedure is critical; even a small deviation from the rules can lead to your punishment being lessened, or your charges being dropped together. A seasoned DUI defense attorney will know checkpoint procedures backward and forward and can introduce a legal defense if the checkpoint was not properly administered.
Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
As an Illinois driver, if you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint, you are obligated to provide police officers with:
- Your driver's license;
- Your vehicle's registration; and
- Insurance information for your vehicle.
Equally as important as knowing the responsibilities you owe an officer during a DUI checkpoint stop is knowing the rights that you maintain under the Constitution. For example:
- You don't have to answer an officer who asks if you've been drinking: if you are pulled over at a DUI checkpoint, you are under no legal obligation to speak to the police officer.
- An officer can't arrest you without probable cause: your Fourth Amendment rights prevent an officer from arresting you for driving under the influence based on a hunch. The officer must see you driving erratically, smell alcohol on your breath or in the vehicle, or see some other indicator that would reasonably suggest that you were under the influence while driving.
If you see a DUI checkpoint, you are not obligated to go through it; you may use a side-street or turn around to keep from going through the checkpoint. This action is not risk-free, however; police officers generally closely monitor those who do not go through the checkpoint, and patrol cars are generally scattered throughout areas that a person might travel through to avoid a checkpoint.
Quality Representation You Can Count On
If you were charged with driving under the influence following a stop at a DUI checkpoint, it's important to be proactive in defending your charge. The first step to defense is finding a criminal defense attorney who has the knowledge and skill set to competently advocate for your interests. The team of DUI attorneys at Dolci & Weiland are dedicated to providing representation that you can count on.
Don't try to fight a DUI charge on your own, your license and your livelihood are on the line. To speak with a member of our legal team about your charge, fill out an online contact form or call the office nearest to you today--for our DuPage office, call (630) 261-9098, or for our downtown Chicago location, call (312) 238-9007.