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DUI Checkpoints: a Guide for Drivers in Virginia

On Behalf of | Dec 1, 2021 | DUI

If you have been a longtime driver on Virginia highways, it’s possible that you have seen what law enforcement refers to as a checkpoint. These checkpoints allow officers to stop cars and see if drivers have been drinking or violating any other traffic law. Checkpoints greatly increase the number of arrests made on the roads in Virginia, and there are certain laws about what police officers can and cannot do when conducting stops in this particular way. If you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint, it is crucial that you know your rights.

General Guidelines for DUI Checkpoints

The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. On the road, this means that a police officer cannot unreasonably search your car or unreasonably seize personal items from your car. In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that DUI checkpoints are generally legal; however, there are restrictions on the setup and implementation of these checkpoints.

In Virginia, DUI checkpoints must be designed and implemented by senior officers at the police department. Checkpoints must be safe and cannot keep drivers detained for an unreasonable amount of time. All officers working the checkpoint must be sufficiently trained, and the checkpoint cannot be unsafe for any drivers going through it.

Know Your Rights at a DUI Checkpoint

First, police officers cannot stop every vehicle that goes through a checkpoint. They are also not allowed to use their personal biases to decide which vehicles to stop. Instead, officers are permitted to stop vehicles according to a pattern that they have decided before setting up the checkpoint. For example, officers can stop every fourth car or every sixth car that goes through the checkpoint. It is still true, however, that if an officer has a legitimate reason to believe that you have violated a traffic law, they can pull you over when you are driving through a DUI checkpoint.

Officers cannot ask you questions about where you are headed or where you have come from when you are driving through a checkpoint. Even if the officer seems forceful or asks questions in an intimidating way, you are not required to answer their questions. However, your failure to answer may result in the officer becoming more suspicious.

Officers are also not allowed to force you to take a field sobriety test when you drive through the checkpoint. Again, this rule is different if officers have a legitimate reason to suspect that you have been drinking. Otherwise, though, it is impermissible for officers to force a driver to take one of these tests without reason to suspect intoxication.

If you see a DUI checkpoint ahead, you are within your rights if you decide to avoid the checkpoint. You cannot take an illegal turn or back up on the highway to keep from driving through the checkpoint, but if there is a legal, reasonable turn that you can take, the police cannot fault you for driving a different direction.

Have You Been Stopped at a DUI Checkpoint in Virginia?

If you have been pulled over at a DUI checkpoint in Virginia, it is important to know your rights and know your options. Charges that result from DUI checkpoints are sometimes legitimate but other times unreasonable, and there may be defenses you can raise to challenge the legitimacy of charges against you. At Robinson Law, PLLC, we are experienced with DUI checkpoint cases in Virginia and are ready to stand by your side. For a free and confidential consultation, give us a call at 703-542-3616.