Sobriety checkpoints: What to expect

You may already know that sobriety checkpoints are legal here in South Carolina. Police typically set up these checkpoints on weekends, holidays, in the early morning hours and at night when they suspect more people will be driving under the influence. They often set them up around places providing entertainment and alcohol.

Ordinarily, officers require reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop. Even though officers may stop your vehicle without reasonable suspicion through a sobriety checkpoint, that doesn't mean that you waive your constitutional rights.

What you can expect at a sobriety checkpoint

Once stopped, an officer will ask you to roll down your window. The officer may ask to see your driver's license, registration and proof of insurance. The officer then runs a background check to determine whether you have any outstanding warrants. The officer may offer you other questions as well. Some of them assess whether you are impaired by looking for the following:

  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Alcohol on your breath
  • Lack of coordination
  • Flushed face

If you exhibit one or more of these signs, the officer may ask you to exit your vehicle in order to participate in field sobriety tests. If the officer believes you failed these tests, he or she may arrest you.

What you can expect after an arrest

You have the right to challenge the charges. Even though sobriety checkpoints bypass the need for reasonable suspicion to stop you, officers must still properly establish probable cause for the arrest. In order to protect your constitutional rights, law enforcement officials must adhere to certain standards and procedures set forth by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

Considering the fact that the guidelines set forth by the NHTSA contain thousands of pages, the potential for mistakes is high. If the so-called evidence an officer used to create probable cause for your arrest did not comply with the rules, prosecutors cannot use it against you in court. Without such evidence, the charges against you may not stand. Any error could make the case against you fall apart.

In order to know whether an officer failed to follow proper procedures and violated your rights, you may need experienced help. Sometimes, it takes more than knowledge of the law in order to provide a successful defense to charges such as DUI. An attorney trained by a former police officer to recognize when mistakes occurred could prove invaluable.

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