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Getting Stopped at Virginia DUI Checkpoints

Roadblock checkpoints are a frequent tool used by the Virginia State Police and city and county law enforcement agencies that want to crack down on impaired drivers — particularly through the holiday season when more impaired drivers tend to be on the road. The experience of getting stopped at a checkpoint may be stressful even for someone who is not under the influence, and the average citizen probably does not know a lot about what police are and are not allowed to do at DUI checkpoints.

Roadblock checkpoints can be used for public safety purposes and where there is some higher public interest, such as sobriety checkpoints, or ones used to verify drivers’ licenses and registrations. Nationally, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of checkpoints for these purposes, but not to generally screen for criminal activity.

In City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000), the court found that a checkpoint for the purpose of general crime control was a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. This decision is binding in circumstances where even if the checkpoint was one looking for insobriety or a license and registration check, if the general crime control component is indistinguishable from the ostensible purpose, the checkpoint is invalid.

Virginia law permits the use of DUI checkpoints — and the state’s checkpoints have been upheld in the courts. However, law enforcement must have an established plan for the checkpoint, and the checkpoint location has to be announced to the public.

You may be able to challenge a checkpoint arrest when the checkpoint was at a different location than the one planned or publicized. You also may be able to challenge the arrest if the police were using the checkpoint to screen for criminal activity in general without having suspicion that you as an individual did something wrong (a review of the methodology implemented may assist in a challenge on this ground).

When Virginia law enforcement officers conduct DUI checkpoints, they are not allowed to stop every car. Instead, they must use a formula to determine which cars to stop, and they should only ask you to get out of your car if there are obvious indicators that you are under the influence, such as an odor of alcohol, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or witnessed erratic driving.

If you are detained at a checkpoint, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Stay calm and say as little as possible—don’t volunteer extra information such as where you are going or that you “just had one beer with dinner.”
  • Cooperate with officers by producing your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance.
  • If they ask to search you or your vehicle, you do not have to consent to a search.
  • You are not required to blow into a handheld breathalyzer, known as a preliminary breath test, or to perform field sobriety tests, but you may be arrested if you refuse. However, it may be worse for you if you agree to these DUI tests and fail.

Finally, if you’re detained at a Virginia sobriety checkpoint, call an experienced Roanoke DUI lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer can help protect your rights in a stressful situation when you might not be thinking clearly just because of the anxiety that a brush with the law can cause — even if you are not impaired. The Roanoke DUI lawyers at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico offer a free consultation. Call us today at (540) 343-9349.