DUI Checkpoints in West Virginia
Every week, the state of West Virginia sets up checkpoints at predetermined locations in order to catch people who are driving drunk. These stops are called sobriety or DUI checkpoints and generally occur at times when more people are likely to be drinking, such as at night, early morning, happy hour, and on weekends. The goal is not only to catch more drunk drivers, but also to deter others from driving drunk in the first place by increasing the perceived risk of getting caught.
Are West Virginia DUI Checkpoints Legal?
Since the Fourth Amendment protects us from illegal searches and seizures, you may wonder if a DUI checkpoint is legal. In the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case, Michigan vs. Sitz, the Justices came to a 5 to 4 decision stating that these checkpoints are constitutional as they are a justified intrusion made in the public interest of protecting citizens from drunk drivers. Many legal experts refer to this as the “DUI exception to the Constitution” and point out that the Justices made this ruling on the basis that the checkpoints’ intent was to find drunk drivers. However, officers at checkpoints usually hand out more citations for smaller issues such as tinted windows, defective tail lights, out-of-date registrations, and expired driver’s licenses, which bring in money to local governments. In fact, DUI checkpoints have been found to be less effective at detecting drunk drivers than roaming patrols, so it begs the question, why are they still being done?
Eleven states have outlawed DUI checkpoints, either by a statute or because they believe they are against their state Constitutions. Unfortunately, West Virginia is not one of these states. DUI checkpoints are considered legal and used regularly by law enforcement.
What to Do If You are Stopped at a West Virginia Checkpoint
First, come to a complete stop, and keep your hands visible. You will need to roll down your window to speak with the police officer and hand him any documents (such as your driver’s license, insurance information, and registration) that he or she requests. Be aware that you don’t have to roll your window down all the way. The officer may try to lean in to smell your breath.
During the entire exchange with the police officer, your goal should be to pass the “attitude test.” Be calm, polite, and respectful. However, this doesn’t mean you have to answer all the questions that are posed to you. You should respond to basic questions that confirm your identity, but any questions beyond that – even if they seem harmless – you can refuse to answer. Often, answering some questions and not others can actually appear more suspicious than refusing to answer all questions. The officer may try to intimidate you into replying, but it is your right to avoid giving evidence that can be used against you. You can simply say that you do not agree with DUI checkpoints or are refusing to answer based on advice given from a lawyer friend. But again, be polite!
If you are asked to perform a field sobriety test or a breath test, it is in your best interest to again politely refuse. The results can only be used against you, and by refusing you are giving the police less evidence to use against you in court.
What to Do If You Are Arrested at a West Virginia DUI Checkpoint
Once you have been arrested, you are required to submit to what is called a secondary chemical test of your breath, blood, or urine to find out the concentration of alcohol in your blood. If you refuse, you can have your driver’s license taken away for a year or even for life. You should be aware that even if you fail a breath test, there are many ways to contest the results. The machine used in West Virginia, the Intoxilyzer 5000, utilizes older technology, and issues such as temperature, emissions from police two-way radios, and the presence of food or other materials in your mouth, are just a few things that can affect the results. Additionally, the machine must be properly maintained and calibrated to be accurate. With the help of a DUI lawyer, you can find out if your results are incorrect.
Just like when you were stopped at the DUI checkpoint, it is in your best interest not to answer questions once you are brought to the police station. Instead, ask to speak with your West Virginia DUI lawyer.