How is a Traffic Stop Different Than a DUI Checkpoint?
The traffic stop and DUI checkpoints are really two different animals. A traffic stop requires the police to have articulable and specific reason for pulling you over. They can't say they stopped the driver because they wanted to, or just because they didn't like the look of the driver. They need a real reason they can articulate.
DUI checkpoints take a totally different approach. They stop random drivers, speaking to them briefly, just long enough to see if they are showing signs of intoxication. If the driver is slurring their words, or smells like booze, they may be told to pull over for further investigation. If not, they may just be waived through.
Either way, once the police officer suspects alcohol may be involved, they will look for signs of intoxication and any evidence of inebriated driving. This includes the field breath test and field sobriety tests. These are “field” tests because they are usually done on the side of the road rather than after an arrest at the police station. These kinds of tests are not required by law and you have the right to refuse them.
Whether or not you pass or fail these test may not matter anyway. After the police think they have enough to justify an arrest, the officer will place you under arrest, and take you in. At that point, the driver will be required to provide a chemical sample to test their blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If they refuse, under Georgia's implied consent laws, they may have their license suspended for up to a year.
Pulled Over for a Traffic Stop
The cops aren't supposed to pull you over without a reason. Often times they don't need to look to hard for a reason to make a traffic stop. If you were going over the speed limit, or didn't signal a lane change, that can give them a reason to stop you. Even if there was no problem with your driving, if you don't have your headlights on as you pull out of a parking lot at night, the police may stop you. If your license plate is obscured, they may pull you over.
When the police stop you on the side of the road, they'll usually start with asking for you license and proof of insurance. Then they may ask a few questions like, “do you know why I pulled you over?” If you aren't exhibiting any other suspicious behavior, they may write you a ticket, or just let you go with a warning. However, if you are slurring your speech, your eyes are bloodshot, or there is a smell of alcohol on your breath, they may ask you to do field sobriety tests before arresting you for a DUI.
Stopped at a Sobriety Checkpoints
A sobriety checkpoint is a totally different matter. You may get questioned randomly, even if you were driving perfectly, and your car was in perfect condition. DUI checkpoints are supposed to operate under certain guidelines to ensure they are not discriminatory, and so the police don't overstep their authority. However, some police departments don't strictly follow these guidelines, and may be infringing on 4th Amendment rights.
Sobriety checkpoints are supposed to be overseen by supervising officers, and not just traffic cops. They are supposed to be operated safely, in a safe location with proper signage and lighting. They have to have a reasonable duration, and neutral criteria for stopping a car. They have to be clearly official, using marked police cars and officers in uniform.
If you are stopped and questioned at a sobriety checkpoint, the police will be looking for the same indicators of impairment as during a traffic stop. Slurred speech, an open container of alcohol in the car, the smell of marijuana, or blood-shot eyes may alert the police to investigate whether the driver may be driving under the influence.
Checkpoint or Vehicle Stop
If you see lights and sirens behind you, or lights up ahead signalling a DUI checkpoint, you may be facing an arrest. Remember that a DUI arrest is not the same as a conviction. You have defenses available, and deserve to have to have someone fight for you. Contact an experienced Atlanta DUI attorney, who will fight to keep the criminal charges off your record. Contact Lawson and Berry today.