In 1990 some Michigan motorists challenged the constitutionality of a highway sobriety checkpoint where Michigan State Police had pulled over vehicles whose drivers were thought to be under the influence of an intoxicant, and asked them to perform field sobriety tests. The United States Supreme Court determined that the DUI checkpoint did not create an intrusion on citizens’ privacy under the Fourth Amendment [Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 110 S.Ct. 2481 (1990)].

Avoiding the DUI Checkpoint

Chief Justice Rehnquist, who wrote the opinion for the majority, reasoned, among other things, that a short delay was minimally intrusive on motorists’ rights, especially as motorists could turn off the road upon seeing the checkpoint or make U-turns so as not to pass through it

Checking Driver’s Licenses/Registrations

Police do not have the right to check driver’s licenses or vehicle registrations unless the stop is for a violation, or if the police suspect illegal conduct (such as signs of intoxication). 

Consenting to a Search

Officers may search a vehicle without the driver’s consent when police:

  • Have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or the fruits or instrumentalities of a crime (such as an open bottle of booze in the vehicle).
  • Have placed the driver under arrest.
  • Observe, from where they stand outside the vehicle, illegal articles within the vehicle that are in plain view.

Cooperating with the Police

When citizens pass through a DUI checkpoint, they should be cooperative. For example, if a driver refuses to roll down

Field Sobriety Tests Are Voluntary

his/her window, that might raise a police officer’s suspicion and the driver could be asked to pull to the side of the road.

People may, however, refuse to answer a police officer’s questions — however, it’s in the driver’s best interest to respond politely, for example:

  • “Officer, please understand that I refuse to talk to you until I consult with my attorney. I also refuse to consent to any search of my vehicle, as well as my person and effects. I wish to immediately be allowed the reasonable opportunity to obtain the advice of my attorney by telephone.”
  • “If I am under arrest, I wish to exercise my right to silence until my attorney is present.”
  • “If I am not under arrest, and I am free to leave, please tell me immediately so that I may go about my business.”

Refusing to Perform a Field Sobriety Test

A driver may refuse to perform field sobriety tests as they are voluntary, although law enforcement doesn’t emphasize this fact (or they may not even mention it). However, an officer may still arrest the driver if the officer has probable cause. Keep in mind that performing field sobriety tests may possibly give the police more evidence of intoxication.

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Managing Partner at Shaun Kaufman Law
Shaun Kaufman has 30 years of in-court experience, with hundreds of hours spent defending numerous high-profile cases including homicide, white-collar theft and RICO offenses. Specialties: Criminal defense, personal injury, business litigation, DUI.

Shaun Kaufman Law: 303-309-0430
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