Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers

How Do DUI Checkpoints Work in Pennsylvania?

Generally speaking, police must have some valid reason to stop a driver on the road.  However, in Pennsylvania, police have the authority to set up DUI Checkpoints (or roadblocks) under Title 75 Section 6308(b) which specifically allows police to stop a vehicle in order to investigate or check the vehicle’s registration, proof of insurance, vehicle identification number, driver’s license, or to secure any other information the officer reasonably believes necessary to enforce the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Code.

The Bucks County DUI defense attorneys at Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates give an overview of DUI checkpoints, including how they work and the types of penalties you can face for checkpoint-related offenses in Pennsylvania.

Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in Pennsylvania?

Because these DUI Checkpoints require no suspicion on the part of the police in order to conduct a vehicle stop, there are procedural and constitutional safeguards that are in place that police must abide by in order for the DUI Checkpoint to be considered constitutional.  Under Pennsylvania Law, the DUI Checkpoint is permissible (or constitutional) if the police are engaged in a “systematic, non-discriminatory, non-arbitrary” method of conducting vehicle stops so as to ensure highway safety.  While it may seem unfair that the police may stop you in your vehicle without any reason to do so, Courts have allowed DUI Checkpoints by balancing the gravity of the public concerns served by the DUI Checkpoint against the severity of the interference with an individual’s liberty and freedom. You have the right to retain a Philadelphia DUI defense lawyer for an incident like this.

In keeping compliance with the constitutionality principles set forth in setting up DUI Checkpoints, the Court has set procedural requirements that the police must meet in order to set up a DUI Checkpoint:

  1. The initial vehicle stop in which the driver is first observed must be brief and cannot include a physical search of the vehicle or its occupants;
  2. Motorists cannot be caught by surprise. They must have sufficient advance visual notice (and media notice) of the DUI Checkpoint/ roadblock;
  3. The decision to hold the DUI Checkpoint/ roadblock must be made by supervisory officials acting in an administrative or managerial capacity, not just by patrol officers;
  4. The location and time of the DUI Checkpoint/ roadblock must be based on verifiable criteria as to the history of drunken-driving incidents and arrests at the chosen locale for the checkpoint;
  5. The determination of which vehicles to stop must be based on administrative decisions relying upon objective standards.

As an example of meeting these requirements in setting up a DUI Checkpoint, police set-up a roadblock in Commonwealth v. Myrtetus in which the roadblock’s time and location was selected by the police chief and based on a statistical review of prior incidents, times and occurrences in the area of where the roadblock was set-up.  Notice of the location, time and procedure of the roadblock was published in advance in the local newspaper, and the roadblock itself was manned by several police officers and also illuminated by a fire truck and other advance warnings signs.  Finally, police were instructed to stop every fifth vehicle that passed through the roadblock.

What Happens If I Avoid a Pennsylvania DUI Checkpoint?

There is no requirement that says that a driver needs to follow the line of vehicles in a DUI Checkpoint.  It is important to know your legal rights at a DUI checkpoint in Pennsylvania. The Courts have held that where the driver has an opportunity to avoid a DUI Checkpoint and does so lawfully, police have no legal basis to stop the vehicle.  The Court has gone so far as saying that an officer’s hunch that a driver is drunk because he or she is avoiding the DUI Checkpoint is not enough to stop the vehicle and that in the absence of evidence of a Vehicle Code violation (or some other criminal violation), the police may not stop a vehicle who maneuvers around a DUI Checkpoint in effort to avoid having to go through the checkpoint itself.

As an example of a driver who was trying to avoid a DUI Checkpoint, police set up a DUI Checkpoint in Commonwealth v. Scavello in which the driver was observed to make a legal U-turn prior to reaching the DUI Checkpoint.  A police officer observed the driver make the U-turn and drive away, and the officer pulled the driver over.  The officer observed strong signs of intoxication (odor of alcohol, bloodshot eyes, unsteady gait), however, the Court ruled that the vehicle stop was unlawful because the officer lacked any suspicion that the driver was intoxicated before making the vehicle stop.  The Court said that there must be something more than just a driver’s attempt to avoid a DUI checkpoint in order for the police to pull the vehicle over.  There must be some other evidence that there is either a violation of the Motor Vehicle Code or that some other type of criminal activity is afoot.

How to Challenge a DUI Checkpoint Offense in PA

In order to win a case involving a DUI Checkpoint, it is essential to show that the police failed to follow the above-mentioned guidelines and that therefore the DUI Checkpoint was unconstitutional.  In doing so, you must investigate the specific factors used in how the police decided to establish the checkpoint at the particular location.  Look at maps and statistical breakdowns on how many DUIs have occurred at the particular location in the past.  Also, be sure to identify who specifically approved the location of the DUI Checkpoint.  Look to the guidelines or standard operating procedures that the police used in administering the DUI Checkpoint and specifically look for the methodology on how the vehicles were stopped.  Finally, look to how the DUI Checkpoint was actually conducted:  How many vehicles were stopped at a given point in time?  How did police make initial contact with the driver and how long was the initial contact?  Was traffic impeded by administering the DUI Checkpoint?

If you were arrested for avoiding a DUI checkpoint, drunk driving, or refusing to take a breathalyzer test at a DUI checkpoint, contact our Bucks County DUI test refusal defense lawyer today.

Contact Our Pennsylvania DUI Defense Attorneys About Your DUI Checkpoint Citation

If you or a loved one received a citation from an officer or was arrested in a DUI checkpoint-related incident, a Northeast Philadelphia DUI defense lawyer at the Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates law firm can help. For more information on how our lawyers can help if you are facing penalties for a DUI checkpoint offense, call (215) 372-8667 or submit an online form. Our law offices offer free consultations.