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Are Florida Sobriety Checkpoints Legal?

Sobriety checkpoints are considered legal in Florida, even if there is no reason to stop a driver who is otherwise obeying the law. In the usual circumstance, a law enforcement officer must possess some evidence that the person is committing, is about to commit, or will commit a crime in the near future. The evidence the officer possesses at the time when the officer decides to stop a car (or a person) is known as reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is more than a good guess or instinctive police work. Instead, the police officer must observe behavior that gives the officer a valid reason to encounter the driver. Sobriety checkpoints take about 60 years’ worth of constitutional law and turn it upside down.

There is no requirement to develop reasonable suspicion to stop a car at a sobriety checkpoint, according to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court as well as the Supreme Court of Florida. Each court has held that sobriety checkpoints do not constitute an intrusion into the personal life of the individual driving a car on a state road or city street. Therefore, the police can conduct a stop and engage the driver briefly without a warrant because the interests of the state in stopping or preventing drunk driving accidents outweighs the individual’s interest in being free from governmental intrusion.

The Supreme Court of Florida imposes restrictions on law enforcement agencies when operating a sobriety checkpoint. Each agency that operates a sobriety checkpoint must have a written procedure manual that provides substantial detail for the officers who are running the roadblock. The written procedures must be carefully followed. The procedures must spell out which cars must be pulled over. In other words, the officers cannot decide to pull certain cars over or not. Instead, the roadblock procedure will tell the officers that every car should be pulled over, for example or every fourth car. Roadblocks must remove the discretion of the police officers to be constitutionally permissible. Arbitrary selection of vehicles, or even targeting certain races, will invalidate the entire roadblock.

Motor vehicle operators have rights when going through a sobriety roadblock. Even though the officer directs the motorist to pull to the side, the driver retains the right to remain silent. The driver has no obligation to speak with the police, even if the police are being polite. The law enforcement agent might ask how the driver’s evening is going. The motorist has no obligation to respond.

Additionally, motorists never have to answer the question of whether they have been drinking. The operator could exercise his or her right to remain silent protected by the Fifth Amendment and not utter a word in response. An appropriate response, if the driver wants to give one, would be to tell the officer that an attorney advised not to answer questions.

The officer cannot search your car at the first encounter during the checkpoint. The deputy could ask the driver for permission to search the car. However, without first obtaining permission or possessing probable cause to search the car, the answer is “no.” A person never has to give his or her consent to a police search.

During the encounter at the checkpoint, which is supposed to quick and painless, the police might ask to see identification or proof of insurance. At this time, the officer is looking for evidence of wrongdoing to ask more questions. The officer may ask the driver to move over to a safe and secure area for further examination if the officer detects evidence of alcohol consumption.

Police receive training to spot drunk drivers. During their training academies, police are trained to use their senses for signs of alcohol use by the driver. Assuming that the driver negotiated the checkpoint without hitting the cones or vehicles, then the officer will look for the scent of alcohol coming from the driver or the vehicle interior, bloodshot eyes, glassy eyes, slurred speech, confusion, and slowed response times.

The officer is also looking around the vehicle as well. Although the officer is outside of the car during the initial stop at a sobriety checkpoint, the officer could light up the car interior and look for beer cans or empty bottles of alcohol that are in “plain view.” The police could seize as evidence any items observed in plain view.

The officer engaging the person driving will have a pre-arranged signal with other officers when a motorist should be investigated further for DUI. Once the signal is given, the commanding officer will ask the driver to pull over. At that time, the officer will conduct field sobriety tests and could ask the driver to take a portable breath test.

Field sobriety tests are sophisticated parlor tricks. Officers are trained to examine field sobriety tests and imply to the driver that the officer is looking for a bona fide reason to exonerate the driver. By contrast, the officer is looking for evidence of guilt. Whether a motorist “passes” or “fails,” a field sobriety test is completely subjective to the officer. No objective criteria exist to allow a police officer to conclude that a person is intoxicated simply because the driver had a difficult time executing the nine-step walk and turn test perfectly. Politely declining to take the tests could benefit you. Although Florida law allows the prosecution a chance to enter the driver’s refusal in evidence as consciousness of guilt, a skilled Florida DUI lawyer will have a strategy to convince the jury that declining to take the field sobriety tests was an intelligent decision which a sober person would make.

Florida’s implied consent law, found at Florida Statutes §316.1923, says that each driver on Florida’s roads will give a sample of breath to the police who are conducting a DUI investigation, or the person’s license will be suspended, and the refusal admitted in evidence against them. The mandatory license suspension for refusing a breathalyzer is one year but could be up to eighteen months if the person previously refused. The police cannot draw blood without consent or a warrant. Breathalyzer results are hardly foolproof and could be vigorously contested at trial by a hard-nosed and experienced Florida DUI defense lawyer.

You Have Constitutional Rights at a Drunk Driving Checkpoint in Florida

Your Florida DUI case could be dismissed before trial if the police make procedural errors when conducting the sobriety checkpoint. Sobriety checkpoints are a very valuable tool for law enforcement, and they will make sure they do everything right. A person charged with DUI in Florida after a sobriety roadblock needs a lawyer who will do the same. Musca Law’s Florida DUI defense counsel relies on their extensive skill and unparalleled experience to protect the rights of their clients. Call 888-484-5057 right now to speak with them about your Florida DUI arrest.

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