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DUI Checkpoints – The balance of public safety versus an intrusion on your personal rights

Throughout the year and especially during the holidays, many law enforcement agencies in Tampa Bay set up DUI Checkpoints in an effort to enforce Florida’s law regarding operating a vehicle while being impaired or commonly known as drinking and driving. These checkpoints are essentially roadblocks that filter the flow of traffic into a single line and stop certain vehicles (i.e. every 5th or 7th vehicle) to briefly speak with the driver and check for signs of impairment.

The intrusion on a driver that displays no signs of impairment is supposed to be minimal, they remain in the vehicle and following several questions the driver is released and routed back to the road to resume their journey. However, if an officer suspects impairment, most commonly bloodshot or watery eyes, an odor of alcohol, or impairment by prescription medication or drugs, this creates reasonable suspicion that permits law enforcement to conduct a more thorough investigation. The suspected impaired driver is routed to another area, must exit the vehicle and often will be asked to complete field sobriety tasks and answer questions about medication or alcohol consumption. If the driver fails these tasks, they are placed under arrest and taken to a mobile breath testing unit located on scene.

Many critics of these DUI checkpoints argue that being stopped is an unwarranted intrusion on our 4th amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. However, the courts disagree, the U.S. Supreme Court in Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, ruled that the minimal intrusion placed on a driver stopped at a DUI checkpoint, despite being an unwarranted search and seizure is outweighed by the State’s advancement of a legitimate interest in protecting its citizens and preventing impaired driving.

In permitting this intrusion, the courts require all DUI checkpoints have a specific set of guidelines that must be followed. These guidelines cover everything from job assignment and what number vehicle is stopped (every 7th car), to what questions are asked and the exact hours of operation. If a law enforcement agency deviates from the written guidelines for a DUI checkpoint, it does so at the risk of the evidence being suppressed and the case being dismissed.
An experienced DUI defense attorney will know what critical details to investigate when handling a DUI checkpoint case and which deviations are substantial enough to warrant evidence being suppressed. If you have been arrested following a DUI checkpoint, contact the Mastrogiovanni Law Firm today to discuss your case and what strategies we can use to defend your rights. We handle DUI cases in Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Hillsborough and Citrus counties.