Holiday DUI Checkpoints: Know Your Rights

In a previous blog post, we discussed how law enforcement agencies in Reno and other jurisdictions of Nevada increase their efforts to crack down on DUIs during the holiday season, which have become known for surges in the numbers of alcohol-related accidents. In addition to having more officers on patrol and funding specialized DUI task force units, law enforcement officers also use DUI checkpoints, or sobriety checkpoints, as a means to arrest motorists suspected of driving under the influence, as well as motorists driving on a suspended license.

Although DUI checkpoints have been a subject of debate for some time, especially when it comes to privacy rights, they remain legal in Nevada and many other states throughout the U.S. Although these checkpoints can allow police to lawfully conduct investigative stops and deter drunk driving, they must be administered properly in order to be legal, and law enforcement officers must still comply with rules and procedures when investigating, detaining, and arresting suspects.

Because our legal team works with many clients who are arrested for holiday DUIs, during periods of increased DUI enforcement, and at DUI roadblocks, we want to make sure local residents understand how they work and what their rights are when driving through a checkpoint. Below are a few important facts about DUI checkpoints in Nevada:

  • Officers don’t need probable cause – One of the most distinguishing aspects about DUI checkpoints is that they are exempt from the legal requirement that law enforcement officers have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop a motorist. Essentially, roadblocks allow police to legally stop drivers for no reason in order to investigate whether they are driving under the influence. This exemption from the reasonable suspicion / probable cause requirement needed in most cases is due to the fact that courts have historically ruled checkpoints to be in the best interests of public safety, similar to administrative inspections conducted at airports. Even though officers don’t need a reason to stop you and engage in a brief discussion, they do need probable cause to believe you are under the influence in order to conduct a more thorough search of your person, vehicle, or property.
  • How they work – Checkpoints can be set up at various locations, provided they are clearly visible to traffic within 100 yards in any direction. When drivers reach a roadblock, officers may choose to speak with them and briefly ask questions. They may also ask for a valid driver’s license. During these conversations, they are focused on identifying possible signs of intoxication (i.e. slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, smell of alcohol or drugs), and any contraband or items in plain view (i.e. open containers, drug paraphernalia) that can constitute probable cause the driver may be committing a crime. Should they establish probable cause, they may pull driver’s aside to conduct additional tests, including field sobriety tests (which you can legally refuse), preliminary breath tests, and vehicle searches.
  • Law enforcement’s obligations – Law enforcement officers must follow applicable laws and guidelines when establishing a checkpoint. This includes placing signs notifying approaching traffic of a roadblock, using flashing lights to indicate slowed traffic, and placing warning signs at certain distances on the roadway. Law enforcement in Nevada is not required by law to publicize where and when checkpoints will take place, but they often do. In addition to rules for setting up checkpoints, officers must also comply with the law when dealing with motorists, especially when establishing probable cause to conduct a further investigation of a suspect.
  • Can you drive through a checkpoint? – While you have the right to take a legal detour before arriving at a checkpoint if you can do so safely, Nevada law makes it illegal to drive through the checkpoint without stopping or being cleared by law enforcement. Drivers who do so can face gross misdemeanor charges, fines, and up to 364 days in jail. It is also important to note that checkpoints are heavily monitored, and that officers will be looking for signs of impairment, as well as traffic violations, if you choose to avoid a roadblock.

Although DUI checkpoints are unique enforcement tools used by police, you still have Constitutional rights, including protections from unlawful searches and seizures conducted without probable cause that you are under the influence. If you or someone you love has been arrested at a DUI checkpoint anywhere in Reno or the surrounding areas, our team at Joey Gilbert Law can review your case to determine if law enforcement officers were abiding by the law, and determine what available defense strategies you may have. To learn more about your rights and how our DUI defense lawyers can help, contact us for a FREE consultation 24/7.

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