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Pittsburgh Roadside Checkpoints

One of the tools law enforcement uses in Pittsburgh to catch drivers who are operating their motor vehicles under the influence of drugs or alcohol is the roadside checkpoint. Roadside checkpoints are temporary blockages of the road that run for a certain number of hours and are occupied by police officers or state troopers. They are supposed to be random in who they pull over, and they serve as a way to visibly discourage drivers from driving while impaired.

Roadside Checkpoint Constitutionality

Even though roadside checkpoints have been adopted by police all over the country, they are still rather controversial. Those who oppose DUI checkpoints say that the absence of reasonable suspicion, a crucial element for a DUI stop, allows cops to violate the constitutional rights of motorists in the state. Those who support checkpoints say that they are an effective deterrent and that they ensure the safety of other drivers on the road.

The US Supreme Court has stated that roadside checkpoints are constitutional. In the early ’90s, they heard a case known as Michigan Department of State police vs Sitz. The court said that the public's interest in reducing the number of accidents caused by drunk drivers justifies the intrusion that comes along with roadside checkpoints.

Even though the checkpoints are constitutional, technically, their only intent was supposed to be to prevent drunk driving. But, police officers often use DUI checkpoints as a way to catch people doing other things, such as having taillights out, or having tinted windows, or having their registration out of date. This has caused many legal experts to believe that roadside checkpoints are not as effective as the Supreme Court thought they would be.

Guidelines for Legal Roadside Checkpoints in Pennsylvania

The Supreme Court ruling decreed that every state that adopts roadside checkpoints has to follow certain guidelines to keep them legal. If a local police department does not follow those rules, and arrests they make for a DUI in that checkpoint could be considered an unlawful arrest. This will lead to the DUI charges being dismissed. Below is a list of some of the guidelines the police officers in Pennsylvania have to follow:

Motor Vehicles Cannot be Chosen at Random by Law Enforcement

Officers who occupy a checkpoint must have a system of numbers or patterns that they use to stop cars and trucks. As an example, they may decide to stop every fourth car. This is supposed to prevent officers from pulling over people in a discriminatory fashion, based on things like how the driver looked when they decided to stop him.

Checkpoints Have to Ensure Everyone's Safety by Being Clearly Visible

Checkpoints are not allowed to be hidden. All roadside checkpoints are required to be clearly visible to every driver who approaches it. This gives drivers time to stop or to slow down to a safe speed. The checkpoints must be located where they will not disrupt traffic or create a hazard for motorists.

Unless an Officer Has Reasonable Suspicion, the Stop Must be Brief

The stop can't go any longer than when a person can be considered unreasonably seized without reasonable suspicion. The driver and police officers are only supposed to interact long enough for the cop to ask some questions and the driver to answer, allowing the officer to make a reasonable determination about the impairment or lack thereof of the driver. Typically, officers are looking for bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, or the smell of alcohol.

Police Officers are not Allowed to Chase or Arrest Someone Who Avoids a Checkpoint

Pennsylvania law says that you are allowed to turn your vehicle around before you get to a checkpoint, if you decide to do so. But, you have to do it in a way that does not violate state traffic laws and regulations in any way, shape, or form.

What You Should Expect if You are Stopped

Remember that the police can only stop your vehicle based on the pattern instituted by the officers at that specific roadside checkpoint. If you are stopped, one of the officers will tell you to roll down your window. He or she is required to tell you why they stopped you and then ask you a few questions. If, based on your answers and your appearance, you appear to be impaired, he or she will ask you to drive to a second phase of the checkpoint. Almost always, this means that the officers will want you to perform some field sobriety tests.

Motorists are allowed, under Pennsylvania law, to refuse to take field sobriety tests. At that point, all an officer can do is to ask you questions specifically about your license, your registration, and your proof of insurance. Anything else the officer asked you to tell him does not have to be answered. Often, a driver gets in trouble based on information that they volunteered to the officer that wasn't required legally to be given.

If you are arrested, you cannot refuse chemical testing. The reason for this is that when you got your driver’s license, you agreed to take it because of the implied consent law that Pennsylvania has. To refuse to take chemical testing could lead to your driver’s license being suspended for an entire year.

If you were caught in a roadside checkpoint and charged with DUI, you need a Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney to help you. Sean Logue and his associates are highly trained in all aspect of DUI defense. Call 1-844-PITT-DUI or 412-389-0805 today. They can be reached online here, if you prefer. The attorneys at Logue Law offer free consultations and are available 24/7. They serve Pittsburgh, PA, Ohio, and West Virginia.

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