You are probably familiar with DUI checkpoints but may never have encountered one.
A DUI checkpoint is a location where police officers are stationed to stop cars to check if drivers are intoxicated. DUI checkpoints must be announced ahead of time so drivers know when and where they will be.
Many Virginia residents get nervous when they must stop at a DUI checkpoint, for obvious reasons. No one likes being stopped and talking to the police.
However, Virginia takes DUI seriously and a DUI conviction comes with major penalties including fines, loss of a driver’s license and potential jail time. DUI checkpoints have been ruled legal in Virginia, so you could find yourself at one someday and it is important to know how to act.
Stay calm and do not panic
A DUI checkpoint stop can cause you anxiety even if you have not been drinking, or only had one or two drinks, but are not legally intoxicated. It is natural to want to cover up your nervousness by talking to the police or trying to be nice to them, but this could work against you.
Any statements you make at a DUI checkpoint can be used against you. Additionally, it is your right under the law to not say anything at all to the police except your name.
Do not avoid the checkpoint
When you first see a DUI checkpoint approaching, do not turn around or try to avoid it. There is usually no way to do this and getting caught trying to maneuver around a checkpoint could cause you more problems.
Approach the checkpoint slowly and follow the instructions of the officers. Keep both hands visible and on the steering wheel.
Again, you do not have to answer any of the officers’ questions. In addition to questions about what you have had to drink, this includes questions about where you are going or where you are coming from. It is your right to remain silent.
State your name and provide them with your registration and insurance documents, which they will likely ask for.
If you do not answer their questions and they keep asking, tell them that you would like to speak with an attorney. This will likely get them to stop.
Field sobriety and BAC tests
You also have a right to refuse to perform any field sobriety tests or take a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test.
Field sobriety tests involve the officers asking you to step out of your vehicle and do things like count backward from 10, walk a straight line or follow a light with your eyes. They cannot make you perform these if you do not want to. The same goes for a BAC test. You may say no to the test.
Once you have your documents back, you can ask the officers if you are free to leave. If you are not under arrest, they have no right to keep you there.
You cannot control being stopped at a DUI checkpoint, but you can control what happens at it. Understanding your rights at a checkpoint is important, since if you are arrested for DUI, a violation of one of these rights could be asserted as a defense to the charge.