Articles on South Carolina Law

Rights at DUI Checkpoints and Roadblocks in SC

by | Aug 1, 2016 | Criminal Defense, DUI

You’re heading home from a fun night of dinner and drinks with friends. As you focus on the road ahead, you notice the traffic slowing down to a complete stop. As you get farther up the road, you see the flashing blue lights of a police car and people standing on the side of the road. “Must be an accident,” you think. As you get closer, you see police officers shining lights into the driver’s side of the cars in front of you and realize there’s no accident—this is a DUI checkpoint.

When the officers get to your car, one shines the flashlight on your face and asks for your driver’s license and registration. The officer asks if you’ve been drinking.

You have.

Now, what do you do?

If you answer truthfully, will you be charged with DUI? Do you exercise your right to remain silent? Will you have to perform a sobriety test? Is the police officer going to arrest you?

DUI Checkpoints and the Fourth Amendment

What is the Fourth Amendment?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that U.S. citizens have a right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

What does the Fourth Amendment have to do with DUI checkpoints?

Stopping the driver of a car is considered ‘seizure’ since the person has to pull over and can’t leave without the officer’s permission. Since the law enforcement officers at a DUI checkpoint seize every single driver without any individualized suspicion or probable cause, these stops may appear unconstitutional and illegal to many people.

In a 1990 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that being stopped at a DUI checkpoint does meet the Fourth Amendment’s definition of unreasonable seizure. But in a 1990 decision determined it to be legal as an exception to the amendment.

Why is there a legal exception for DUI checkpoints?

The court found that drunk drivers posed a potential threat to public safety, DUI checkpoints were legal. The public safety issue outweighed the minimal intrusion on sober drivers at the checkpoints.

Requirements for a Legal DUI checkpoint in SC

DUI or sobriety checkpoints must follow basic guidelines:

  • There must be a valid reason for the roadblock’s time and place.
  • There must be supervisory law enforcement personnel approval and oversight.
  • Police officers involved in the checkpoint must be in uniform.
  • Law enforcement must publicize the date and location of the checkpoint.
  • Cars must be stopped in a predictable pattern.
  • The site must be safe and identifiable.
  • The stop must be brief.
  • Motorists’ inconvenience must be minimized.
  • The checkpoint must be able to show documented results of its effectiveness.

What you should do at a checkpoint

If you’re stopped at a DUI checkpoint, please remember the following:

Stay calm. Officers realize being stopped by the police is stressful for most drivers, but acting extremely nervous or upset can raise an officer’s suspicions about you.

Be respectful. The officer is just doing his or her job. There’s no need to aggravate or disrespect the officer. If you must decline a request by the officer, do so politely.

Exercise your right to remain silent. Politely tell the officer you are exercising your right to remain silent if he or she asks you to answer questions that could incriminate you.

Cooperate, but don’t incriminate yourself. If an officer asks for your driver’s license, vehicle registration, or to step out of your vehicle, you should cooperate. If the officer spots something illegal in plain view, the officer has probable cause to complete a vehicle search.

Don’t consent to a vehicle search. You don’t have to consent to a vehicle search if the officer asks. You have this option.

Consider refusing a sobriety test. If asked, you don’t have to perform a breath test or any field sobriety tests, but refusal of a breath test does come with a price (Driver’s License suspension).

You may still have several questions about DUI checkpoints in SC. Find answers below to some of the most common questions asked:

Common Questions About DUI Checkpoints in South Carolina

1. Are DUI checkpoints legal in South Carolina?

Yes, DUI checkpoints are legal in South Carolina as long as the rules are followed by the officers.

2. How can I find out when and where DUI checkpoints will be set up?

Federal law requires dates and locations of DUI checkpoints to be publicized. This information is released to the media, such as radio and television stations. There are also many websites that list checkpoint information.

3. What happens at South Carolina DUI checkpoints?

Officers will stop cars going through the checkpoint using a predetermined pattern (every car, every 2 cars, etc.) If your car is stopped, you’ll be asked to roll down your window and show your ID and registration.

If an officer suspects you have been drinking, he or she may ask you to pull off to the side. Once you’ve pulled over, you may be asked to step out of your vehicle. You should comply.

If the officer asks to search your car, take a Breathalyzer or perform field sobriety tests, you don’t have to. Just remember that if you refuse to perform the breath test, you may lose your driver’s license if charged with DUI.

4. What should I do if I’m stopped at a DUI checkpoint?

If you’re stopped at a DUI checkpoint, the first thing to remember is to stay calm. Cooperate with the officer in a respectful manner. You’re required to show your license and registration when the officer asks.

See section above entitled “What you should do at a checkpoint..”

5. Can I refuse a DUI checkpoint?

If you approach a DUI checkpoint and a police officer attempts to stop you, you must stop. You may refuse a search of your vehicle, giving a breath sample, and performing field sobriety tests. You cannot refuse to give your ID and registration.

Don’t Leave Your Future Up to Chance

Being stopped at a DUI checkpoint in South Carolina can be a stressful situation, but you don’t have to face it alone.

If you have been arrested for DUI or other charges as a result of a checkpoint stop, a criminal defense attorney with experience in DUI cases may be able to help. To get help with your case contact me for a free consultation using my contact form or by phone at (843) 607-9800.

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