DUI Checkpoints Vs. DUI Vehicle Stops
When the Atlanta Police Department or Georgia State Patrol sets out to arrest drivers on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they can use traffic stops, or sobriety checkpoints. A checkpoint involves stopping random drivers for a brief interaction to find drivers under the influence. A traffic stop relies on a driver violating some traffic violation before they are pulled over by the police. These can be very different situations for Georgia drivers.
Georgia Vehicle Stops
The police keep themselves pretty busy handling simple traffic stops. This may involve a police officer waiting on the side of the road, on the lookout for violations or suspicious activity, or it could be based on observations from an officer driving around on the road. However, they don't have the right to stop any car just because they want to, they have to have a reasonable suspicion of some wrongdoing.
Any number of things can be used to justify an initial traffic stop. This can be for observations that might alert the officer to the possibility of a drunk driver, like erratic driving, swerving or weaving. It may also involve minor traffic violations that do not immediately appear related to drunk driving, such as expired registration, a burnt out tail light, speeding or even being illegally parked.
Once you are pulled over, the police officer will usually ask for your driver's license, vehicle registration and insurance. You are required to provide this information to the officer. At this point, the officer may be looking for other signs of illegal activity like drug paraphernalia or an open container of alcohol visible from outside the car. They may even be checking for the smell of marijuana or alcohol on the driver, or coming from inside the car. If the police officer notices something that makes them suspect the driver has consumed alcohol, they may further investigate a possible DUI.
Georgia Sobriety Checkpoints
A checkpoint, or roadblock, is different than a traffic stop, and has different Constitutional requirements. Instead of observing a vehicle for signs of violations, a roadblock will randomly stop drivers before looking for unlawful activity. If you happen to be driving down a road with a road block up ahead, the police may just wave you through, or they may briefly stop your car to get a further look at you.
There is no reasonable suspicion requirement for sobriety checkpoints, also called DUI checkpoints. Rather, there are a set of guidelines intended to make sure the checkpoint passes Constitutional muster. This includes considering whether:
- The checkpoint is in a reasonably located location;
- A supervising officer is making decisions;
- There is a neutral criteria for stopping vehicles;
- The checkpoint is in a safe location, with proper visibility and controlled traffic;
- Reasonable time and duration for the road block;
- Clearly shows motorists that it is official, with police cars, lights and uniforms;
- Time delay is minimal, and only long enough to look for signs of intoxications (including the smell of alcohol or slurred speech); and often
- The roadblock should ideally be advertised in advance.
Many people may think it is counterintuitive to advertise a roadblock ahead of time. After all, letting people know about it may eliminate the factor of surprise. However, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), one of the primary benefits of sobriety checkpoints is as a deterrent to driving under the influence.
Alcohol or Drug Suspicion
Either during a DUI checkpoint or traffic stop,at the point the police officers suspect the driver may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the process may continue the same way. If at a sobriety checkpoint, the officer may instruct the driver to pull over to a designated area where further investigation will take place.
The police officers will look for additional evidence to justify an arrest for a DUI. This may include asking questions about drug or alcohol consumption. The officer may have the driver perform some field sobriety tests, including the walk-and-turn test, one-leg-stand test, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (an eye test). While law enforcement use these to try and show the driver is impaired, there are many problems with relying on these tests, especially considering they are not mandatory. If you don't want to take the chance that these tests will hurt your case, you can refuse to do the field sobriety tests.
The same is true with a field breathalyzer test. A field chemical breath test is not required, and can be much less accurate than the chemical tests performed when a driver is arrested. Chemical tests are required when the driver is arrested for a DUI, and refusal can result in an administrative suspension of your license.
If you have been charged with driving under the influence after a traffic stop or a sobriety checkpoint, you should seek the advice of a knowledgeable and courtroom experienced Atlanta DUI lawyer. We have representing thousands of clients charged with DUIs, and other alcohol-related charges. We will defend your rights in court and fight to keep your license to drive. Call us now to keep your record clean, and keep you out of jail.