There is nothing scarier than driving home after a dinner with friends or watching a big game at a sports bar and discovering that you are about to be stopped at a DUI checkpoint. Even if you have had little to drink, Virginia law does not require that your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is particularly high in order to charge you with a DUI. However, there is a lot to know about Virginia sobriety checkpoints that can help you navigate them. I'll tell you more below and let you know when you may be able to benefit from working with a Fairfax DUI lawyer.
Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in Virginia?
Whether sobriety checkpoints are legal in Virginia is a question that comes up often, and the answer is yes, they are absolutely legal, but only if the checkpoint is set up legally and officers conducting sobriety checkpoints are following Virginia law.
If you've never been pulled over at a DUI checkpoint, essentially it involves police officers setting up roadblocks and randomly pulling over passing drivers to see if they are too drunk to legally drive. Virginia sees these checkpoints as deterrents to drunk driving. If you are pulled over at a checkpoint and an officer has probable cause to suspect that you are intoxicated (i.e.: if you slur your speech, smell of alcohol, or otherwise appear intoxicated), you may be asked to do sobriety tests and possibly have your BAC tested. If your BAC is above the legal Virginia limit of .08 percent, you could be arrested for a DUI.
Understanding DUI Checkpoint Laws and Rules
While it's true that sobriety checkpoints are legal in the state of Virginia, there are several rules they must adhere to. First, the location of the checkpoint must be announced to the public before it is set up. By being proactive and knowing how to find police checkpoints on your own, you can avoid these checkpoints altogether.
You can find DUI checkpoint announcements in the local news and on local television, as well as on the police department's website. By doing a quick internet search for DUI checkpoints Fairfax VA you should be able to find the locations of local checkpoints. Also keep in mind that checkpoints are commonly set up on holidays when people are likely to be drinking. New Year's Eve, St. Patrick's Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the Fourth of July are all common times for the appearance of sobriety checkpoints in Fairfax.
Stops at sobriety checkpoints must also be conducted according to specific DUI checkpoint laws and rules. First, police cannot legally stop every vehicle that enters the checkpoint area. There is a formula they must adhere to in terms of how many people they can stop, which can vary between different checkpoints. If you notice that they are stopping every car, this is not legal. Additionally, under no circumstances can an officer at a Fairfax DUI checkpoint ask you to step out of your car unless they have reason to suspect that you are impaired. This could include an inability to focus your eyes, slurring your speech, or smelling alcohol in your vehicle.
What to do When Facing a Sobriety Checkpoint
If you find yourself facing a checkpoint, follow all traffic laws. This is because you can be pulled over for traffic or vehicle equipment violations when you are within a checkpoint or approaching one, whether you are speeding, driving recklessly, or simply have a brake light that isn't working. A mistake many people make, even when they are sober but don't want to wait in the traffic a checkpoint often causes, is doing a U-turn to avoid it, only to find themselves pulled over moments later for making an illegal turn.
If you do happen to be stopped at a checkpoint, don't panic. Instead, be polite and do what the officer asks of you within reason. If an officer asks to search your car, know that you are not legally required to allow this unless it is for a legal reason. In addition, if an officer asks you questions about what you were doing before you were stopped, remember that you are not required to answer these questions and politely decline. In addition, an officer cannot ask you to take a BAC test or a field sobriety test unless they have reason to suspect that you are intoxicated. If they ask you to do either without reason, write down the details of what happened afterwards so you can report them to a DUI lawyer.
Arrested at a DUI Checkpoint in Fairfax? Get Legal Help.
If you have been arrested after being pulled over at a DUI checkpoint, working with a Fairfax DUI lawyer is in your best interest, especially if you feel that your rights have been violated or the checkpoint stop was not conducted according to Virginia law. A good lawyer will review the circumstances of the stop, determine if your rights were violated, and may be able to help you get the charges reduced or dropped.