You see the signs and lights ahead and realize you are stuck. There is a DUI roadblock, and you can't turn back. Maybe you had a couple of beers earlier in the evening, and you're sure police will smell it on your breath. If they do, what will happen? Will they arrest you? Will they search your car? If they do, what will they find? Are checkpoints even legal?
These questions may flood your mind in the moments while you sit in line waiting to pass through the checkpoint. Checkpoints seem to be part of life in Florida, especially around holidays like New Year's and July Fourth. While some states have banned them as unconstitutional, Florida uses checkpoints frequently as a way to identify and deter drunk drivers.
Why checkpoints are legal in Florida
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects you from unlawful and unreasonable searches. Police may not come into your house or stop you on the street and search you unless they have good reason to believe you are involved in a crime. In many cases, they need a warrant. However, DUI checkpoints are an exception for the following reasons:
- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that preventing drunk driving accidents outweighs the personal inconvenience of a checkpoint.
- Because checkpoints are minimally intrusive, the Supreme Court ruled that the "seizure" of stopping your car does not violate your rights.
- Rules for checkpoints require police to pull drivers over without bias or suspicion.
- Police at checkpoints stop all drivers in a determined sequence, such as every third car.
Police usually announce when and where they will conduct checkpoints so that you can take an alternate route. However, if you come across a checkpoint unexpectedly and police say they smell alcohol on your breath, they will likely pull you over, put you through standard field sobriety tests and even administer a breath test. They may also search you and your car.
The consequences of a DUI
Drunk driving arrests are often based on subjective findings. A police officer may think your breath smells of alcohol or that you did not walk steadily during a sobriety test. However, the consequences of a DUI arrest are very concrete. If convicted, you face possible fines, loss of your driver's license and, potentially, jail. The impact of a DUI on your future can be devastating. If you can't avoid a DUI checkpoint and find yourself under arrest for suspicion of DUI, you will certainly not want to handle it without professional legal help.