The Legality of DUI Sign Checkpoint Tactics

January 5, 2015

Though police officers normally need to have probable cause to stop a vehicle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz that DUI checkpoints, in which police officers can stop vehicles and briefly question drivers without probable cause to believe that the drivers are impaired, are legal. The court reasoned that the danger of drunk driving outweighs the impact and intrusion on the drivers caused by the inconvenience and delay of a brief stop and questioning. Stops in Florida must, though, be conducted in accordance with certain guidelines. These include the “three minute rule,” which states that stops must take no longer than three minutes, otherwise the officers must stop diverting all traffic through the checkpoint and instead systematically choose only some vehicles to be detained. Thus, DUI checkpoint stops, if conducted properly, are legal and do not violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Tactic

A recent video of a vehicle stopped at a Florida DUI checkpoint has gone viral. The driver of the vehicle dangled a Ziploc bag from a string out his rolled-up window. The bag contained a sign and the driver’s license, insurance, and registration. The sign included language provided by Fair DUI, which is an association of DUI defense attorneys dedicated to protecting the innocent from unfair arrest under DUI laws. The sign read, “I Remain Silent, No Searches, I Want My Lawyer,” and below cited Florida statutes to explain the legality of refusing to open the car window. In the video, the driver never opens his window and does not speak to the deputies. After some examination of the bag, the deputies waive the vehicle through the checkpoint.

The Possible Consequences

However, some law enforcement officers, such as Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri,

have argued that refusing to roll down your window and answer questions may constitute grounds for arrest for obstructing an investigation. This, he states, is because the officer at the checkpoint cannot adequately examine a driver for signs of impairment if the driver’s window is up and the driver does not speak. In an interview on WFSX, Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott even issued a dare to the driver in the video. “I challenge him…to please come to Lee County and drive around,” he said. “Eventually he’ll find one of our checkpoints and he’ll try his luck. He’ll go to jail.”

In contrast, Florida Highway Patrol Spokesperson Sgt. Steve Gaskins said that the purpose of DUI checkpoints is not to violate rights, but to protect against drunk drivers. He also noted that troopers can determine whether a driver is impaired regardless of whether the window is up or down.

What to Do

To be safe and avoid arrest, you should always fully cooperate with officers if you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint. This means that, until the legal issues have been resolved, the best way to avoid arrest is not to try Fair DUI’s tactics. However, if the officer asks you questions, you may politely decline to answer. If the officer asks to search your car, you may refuse to consent to the search, though the officer still may conduct the search if he or she has probable cause that you are impaired.

If you have been arrested at a DUI checkpoint in Florida, whether fairly or unfairly, it is important to contact an attorney experienced in defending DUI charges. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein to learn more about your rights and to help you navigate the court system following a DUI arrest.