A Guide To DUI Checkpoints In South Carolina
At Drennan Law Firm, we frequently receive questions about DUI checkpoints. After first asking if these checkpoints are even legal, the conversation naturally turns to “what should I do if I encounter one and am asked to submit to sobriety tests?”
Below, we provide a general outline about DUI checkpoints in South Carolina. If you still have questions, or if you (or a family member or friend) have been arrested at one of these checkpoints, we encourage you to reach out to us to get additional answers and advice.
Are DUI Checkpoints Legal?
It might seem like DUI checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures because drivers can be stopped even if there is no evidence to suggest that they are under the influence. However, a 1990 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court authorized states to conduct checkpoints, so long as they adhere to a few basic rules:
- All checkpoints must be overseen by a qualified, uniformed law enforcement officer.
- Law enforcement must stop cars in a predictable pattern, for example by pulling over every third or fourth vehicle.
- The agency conducting the checkpoint must also provide sufficient warning to allow motorists to stop at the checkpoint safely.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that in addition to meeting these criteria, law enforcement should alert media to the existence of checkpoints before they occur.
What To Expect And What To Do If You Are Stopped At A Checkpoint
If your vehicle is stopped, a police officer or public safety volunteer will observe your behavior and ask you a few questions to determine whether you show signs of intoxication. If you do, you will be routed to a separate area for additional screening.
While there is a chance that your vehicle will not be selected for screening, you should prepare yourself to talk to the police. If you are stopped at a checkpoint, it is important to stay calm and to avoid any disruptive behavior.
At the screening area, law enforcement officers will likely conduct field sobriety tests. If they believe that you are under the influence of alcohol, you will likely be arrested and asked to submit to a breath test. It is important to understand that you do not have to agree to this test. There are penalties for refusal, however, including a potential six-month driver’s license suspension. These penalties apply regardless of whether you are ultimately convicted of drunk driving.
It is also important to remember that you have a constitutionally protected right to remain silent during your encounter with the police. You do not have to answer any questions, especially those that might be incriminating.
If You Are Arrested
You should immediately ask to consult with an attorney and should inform the police that you will not be answering any questions without your attorney present.
Everything You Need To Know About South Carolina Sobriety Checkpoints
Arrested at a SC DUI Checkpoint?
How aggressive is DUI enforcement in South Carolina? Police officers across the state have been setting up DUI checkpoint traps for years. If you’ve been arrested on suspicion of DUI in the Charleston area, you could benefit greatly from the representation and legal guidance of an experienced and tireless DUI defense attorney who knows how to protect your rights, driving privileges and record.
Don’t assume you’re guilty. People under the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit fail breath tests and field sobriety tests regularly. Get a lawyer who can defend your case and your future.
What Is A DUI Checkpoint
Depending on who you ask, you can expect one of the following responses:
- “It’s an unconstitutional, ‘big brother’ action by law enforcement.”
- “It’s a pain in the rear.”
- “It’s a major bummer.”
- “It’s a necessary tool for preventing drunk driving deaths.”
Let’s get to the bottom of it.
First of all, despite our reservations about them, they are not unconstitutional. In fact, police must obtain approval from a judge prior to setting up a South Carolina DUI checkpoint. During the checkpoint, they must also take care to properly administer breath tests and field sobriety tests. Learn more about South Carolina DUI myths.
When you’re trying to get from point A to point B quickly, stopping in a line of cars, making small talk with an officer and following a beam of light with your eyes surely is a pain in the rear.
Getting asked to step out of your car and having your freedom hinge on your ability to stand on one foot or say the alphabet backwards is definitely a major bummer.
At their core SC DUI checkpoints are a road block set up by the police that provides with with a chance to engage with every driver before allowing their vehicle through the sobriety checkpoint. In theory, this is an efficient way to get drunk drivers off the road and ensure public safety. In practice, casting such a wide net nearly guarantees that innocent drivers will have their rights violated and reputations damaged by invalid procedures and unreliable testing.
DUI Checkpoints: Legality & Your Rights
As you may know, the police have to have a good reason to pull you over while you’re driving. Perhaps you swerved out of your lane or ran a stop sign. Both of those are good reasons to stop you and make sure everything is okay.
One thing that some people have trouble understanding is how a sobriety checkpoint can be legal. Without doing anything wrong, should the police be able to stop you? It’s an age-old question, but at the present time, DUI checkpoints are legal, in most cases.
The checkpoints are set up to detect drivers who may be driving under the influence. They can also be used to stop drivers who are speeding or violating other traffic laws. Of course, the biggest question is if it’s fair to stop anyone who hasn’t violated a traffic law.
The Fourth Amendment allows people in the United States to be free from unreasonable searches or seizures. Searches normally require a search warrant, unless there is a circumstance where immediate action is needed. There normally also has to be probable cause for officers to take actions against you.
Why are sobriety checkpoints legal if there is no reasonable suspicion?
The Supreme Court determined that sobriety checkpoints are legal due to the fact that they are minimally intrusive. The officer may simply ask you to roll down your window and say hello. In some cases, you only have to drive through the checkpoint and won’t be stopped. The justices working on DUI checkpoint cases have determined that the need to reduce drunk driving crashes outweighs the right against being stopped, so long as the intrusion is minimal.
What should you do if you’re stopped at a sobriety checkpoint?
You’re able to respond to officers if you’re stopped, but don’t admit to drinking or doing anything that could result in further suspicion. While officers have a right to stop you momentarily, they aren’t entitled to a full search of your vehicle and may not ask you to perform tests unless there is a suspicion that you’ve been drinking. You need to know your rights in these situations, since some officers could take the law too far and violate your rights.
If you’re stopped and arrested at a sobriety checkpoint, it’s best to stay quiet until you discuss your case with your attorney. You want to make sure you don’t say or do anything incriminating.
Know Your Rights if You are Stopped at a Sobriety Checkpoint
Sobriety checkpoints are something everyone knows about but no one wants to see on the roads, especially if they’ve been drinking. While the intention of a sobriety checkpoint is good, the reality is that many believe it violates their rights. It means they’re stopped by police when they’ve done nothing to merit being pulled over.
Many states and jurisdictions use sobriety checkpoints as a way to monitor drivers in their area and to arrest those who have had too much to drink. Not all states use these programs because of the legal issues that have always surrounded them.
Are sobriety checkpoints legal in South Carolina?
Sobriety checkpoints are conducted in South Carolina, but the state has no specific authority that upholds the legality of these stops. Individuals stopped at a sobriety checkpoint may wish to argue that they should not have been stopped or that they had their rights violated in court. The state itself has no laws upholding the validity of a sobriety checkpoint, even though it does allow them.
What should you do if you see a sobriety checkpoint?
Understand that sobriety checkpoints are designed as a way to keep dangerous individuals off the road, but they often do impact those who do not have any reason to be stopped.
If you see a sobriety checkpoint, you might consider going around it, but the reality is that most people wind up having to pass through the area or end up in a position where they’re unable to turn around. Sobriety checkpoints aren’t all bad, and if there is nothing to worry about, you should be able to pass through it quickly with no issues.
If you are arrested following a stop at a sobriety checkpoint, that’s where the legality of the stop begins to fall into question. Normally, drivers would only be pulled over if they were driving recklessly or showing signs of intoxication. Pulling you to the side with no just cause could threaten the prosecution’s case.
Sobriety checkpoints are a legal conundrum, and there’s always a chance to argue that your rights were violated if you’re pulled over. Your attorney can talk to you about the nature of cases such as yours and what you can expect if you do decide to go to court. In some cases, you will find that you can fight, and win, your case against a DUI charge.
What To Do At A DUI Checkpoint In South Carolina
Be respectful. As the old saying goes you win more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Hopefully you’ll answer a couple simple questions (like “Where are you coming from tonight?”) and be on your way. However, if the situation starts veering from questions to physical and mental tests, you have some decisions to make.
If you encounter difficulty at a checkpoint, you always reserve the option to get an experienced DUI lawyer involved to protect your rights. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep an attorney’s contact information in your phone contacts for just such an occasion.
What Rights Do South Carolina Drivers Have At DUI Checkpoints?
Law enforcement deciding to throw up a sobriety checkpoint doesn’t take away any of your constitutional rights. You are still in control of what tests you subject yourself to and maintain the right to remain silent.
The decision is yours as to whether you want to play along with the flashlight game (“follow this beam with your eyes”). When it comes to field sobriety tests and breath tests, you should be aware that there are consequences to refusing a test due to South Carolina’s implied consent law. These consequences include not having a record of your BAC and having your driver’s license automatically suspended.
However, not having a record of your BAC may play to your advantage and anything short of a DUI arrest can be considered a victory. Furthermore, breath tests and field sobriety tests have been shown to be inaccurate. Why subject to yourself to an unreliable test that’s designed to saddle you with a DUI?
The Right Approach at a DUI Checkpoint is a Must
In the state of South Carolina, it’s legal for police to set up a DUI checkpoint. As scary as it may be, when you take the right approach, you put yourself in position to avoid an arrest.
There are a variety of mistakes that people often make at a DUI checkpoint. The following five are among the most common:
- Open alcohol container: If an officer spots an open alcohol container in your vehicle, you can be sure they assume that you’ve been drinking. Also, as a driver, it’s your responsibility to make sure your passengers don’t open alcohol in your car.
- Erratic driving: As your nerves kick in, you may pump your brakes, move from lane to lane and even come to a stop while you process what’s happening. All of these things look suspicious and will attract the attention of the officers at the checkpoint.
- Talking back: Telling an officer they’re wasting your time or doing something illegal is a huge mistake. Even if you’re not arrested for DUI, you could run into a variety of other charges if you become too aggressive.
- Attempting to drive through the checkpoint: Yes, you have legal rights as a driver, but you’re required to stop at a checkpoint. You’re not permitted to drive through it, ignoring the officer’s call to stop, just because you think it’s against the law (it isn’t).
- Illegal U-turn: You’re not required by law to go through a DUI checkpoint. While you’re permitted to make a U-turn, it must be done in accordance with the law. If an officer spots you violating the law, they’re likely to pull you over. This can lead to a traffic ticket for the illegal U-turn, as well as a closer look into your sobriety.
When you avoid these mistakes, you’re in better position to make it through a DUI checkpoint with as little hassle as possible.
If you’re put under arrest for driving under the influence, remain quiet as you cooperate with police. Once you’re processed and released, learn more about your arrest and the next steps in the legal process. There are defense strategies you can use to help prevent a conviction and associated consequences.
Local DUI Checkpoints Via Text And Email
A number of traffic and social networking apps provide drivers with updates about the location of sobriety checkpoints. You may find these to be helpful but should not rely on them. Depending on where you are and where you need to go, there may be no way to avoid them. It’s best to be prepared and understand your rights.
Challenging The Prosecution — Standing Up For Your Rights
At Drennan Law Firm, we fight for our clients. We pick apart the case the prosecution has built against our client, and we minimize the consequences and charges. If we cannot get the charges against you dismissed, we will do everything in our power to reduce the charges.
We don’t treat you like a number. Our team commits to passionate advocacy for your best possible outcome and vigorous protection of your rights through the legal process and into the future.
Did Police Officers Follow Proper Procedure At The Roadblock or DUI Checkpoint?
Each time police set up a roadblock, they need to obtain legal permission from a judge. The evidence against you could be thrown out if they didn’t.
Police officers also need to properly administer breath tests and field sobriety tests.
Breath test machines are unreliable. The portable roadside testing device (Breathalyzer) is only meant to give police officers an idea of your BAC. With strong representation, this evidence won’t stand up in court.
The breath test administered at the police station is done using a machine called the DataMaster DMT. Our attorneys are experienced at evaluating the accuracy of this machine, and often challenge its results.
Even if your BAC test result was high, you may still have a defense and legal options. In many cases, people with gastric reflux, dental work, certain medications, diabetes, asthma and certain diets can get skewed results. Environmental factors and certain molecules in the air or in your lungs at the time of the test can skew your results.
Field sobriety tests are known to be unreliable. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which introduced the tests several years ago, now officially states that field sobriety test results are not sufficient evidence of impaired driving.
Sober people fail the walk-and-turn, one-leg stand, horizontal gaze nystagmus and alphabet recitation tests frequently. Police officers are supposed to videotape the field sobriety tests for court review and follow other strict protocols.
We will examine all aspects of your case and determine what factors may have influenced your test results. We know how to challenge the case against you, protect your license and shield your freedoms.
Get Drennan Law Firm For Tough Defense
Pulled over by the police for driving under the influence? Protect your legal rights. The law is on your side. Please call our attorneys at 843-352-4149 or email us to schedule a free initial consultation with a lawyer whom you can rely on.