Everything You Need to Know About DUI Checkpoints

by Aaron Delgado
November 30th, 2018

Florida DUI Checkpoints

Like everything from fashion trends to spicy Szechuan McNugget sauce, DUI checkpoints seem to come and go. However, DUI checkpoints in Florida recently enjoyed their fifteen minutes of fame when an attorney refused to cooperate.

When he arrived at the checkpoint, this attorney refused to roll down his window and pressed a “legal rights” flyer with his requested legal documents against the window of his car. His actions quickly became the subject of controversy, yet his argument that he was within his legal rights to act as he did quickly inspired many people to copy, share, and even update his “legal rights” flyer for other states. Ultimately, his advice - culled from case law and solid legal principles - was sound when properly applied. If you are interested in the DUI rights flyer, you can find it HERE and read more about one man’s crusade HERE and HERE.

Due to their seemingly transitory nature, there are many misconceptions about DUI checkpoints in Florida, including their legality and how you should handle a checkpoint if you find yourself approaching or stopped at one while under the influence. Below, firm partner and Board Certified Expert in Criminal Trial Law, Aaron Delgado, sheds some light on the issue of Florida DUI checkpoints.

 Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in Florida?

Yes. Although not every state allows DUI checkpoints, Florida does.

 What is a DUI checkpoint and why do police use them?

DUI checkpoints are pre-planned locations where police officers stop vehicles and use a set of predetermined criteria to briefly question the driver. Police use DUI checkpoints as an effort to detect and ultimately arrest any impaired driver in the name of traffic safety.

In other words, DUI checkpoints are police roadblocks. The term “checkpoints” sounds pleasant, but “roadblocks” evokes images of desperados like Bonnie and Clyde. Despite the more pleasant term, there is nothing pleasant about a DUI checkpoint. Everything about the encounter is intimidating and, to this attorney, conjures up images of military juntas, where vehicles are searched and packages are prodded with bayonets. I bristle at the thought of being subjected to a search simply because of the route I took home that night.

Who Supports DUI Checkpoints?

Those who favor DUI checkpoints usually support the tired cliché: if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t be worried. However, even the Constitution of the United States embodies a healthy paranoia of our own government.

I will admit there appears to be little question that increased traffic enforcement reduces traffic fatalities, just as there is little question that “enhanced interrogation” produces more confessions than asking nicely. We can likely all agree that wearing a helmet and a seat belt make you safer than not doing so, but should the government be able to punish you for not wearing them? Similarly, the real question here is: Do DUI checkpoints represent an intrusion on our freedom that we are willing to permit and call legal? The answer, unfortunately, is yes.

DUI Checkpoints & the Supreme Court of the United States

The United States Supreme Court in Michigan (Dep’t of State Police v. Sitz) found DUI checkpoints to be constitutionally valid even if they were minimally effective.

  1. First, the interest of the State in preventing accidents caused by drunk driving must be considered. The Court recognized that the State has a great interest in accomplishing this.

  2. Second, the level of intrusion on the individual’s privacy interest caused by the stop must be balanced against the State’s interest. The Court held that the level of intrusion was slight since each stop averaged about 25 seconds, the stops were pursuant to guidelines, and involved every vehicle, meaning the stop was not arbitrary.

  3. Third, the effectiveness of the checkpoints in achieving the State’s goals must be considered. The Court found that there was some evidence of effectiveness, and that was sufficient.

In summary, the Court concluded: The balance of the State’s interest in preventing drunk driving, the extent to which this system can reasonably be said to advance that interest, and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped, weighs in favor of the program. We therefore hold that it is consistent with the Fourth Amendment.

Requirements for Florida DUI Checkpoints That Protect Drivers

While our highest Courts have agreed that the police can use roadblocks to detain and question drivers without running afoul of our Fourth Amendment rights, they have left us some protections:

  1. Florida DUI checkpoints must have detailed operation guidelines.
  2. Motorists must be safe. There must be adequate lighting and warning signals. Police officers must be clearly identified.
  3. The delay to the drivers must be no longer than necessary.
  4. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, the roadblock must be effective in combatting a more serious problem than other less obtrusive means. That is to say, if there is a better, less intrusive way, that must be used instead.

Florida Supreme Court Standards for DUI Checkpoints

In State v. Jones, the Florida Supreme Court established the standards for setting up a roadblock to stop cars and detain the drivers.

  1. First, the roadblock must be established and operated according to detailed guidelines regarding the selection of vehicles, detention techniques, assignments, and the disposition of vehicles so that little discretion is left to the officers conducting the roadblock.

These guidelines are used to prevent profiling (racial or otherwise) and to avoid an opportunity for the officers to use the roadblock as a tool to harass or intimidate whoever they want while waving their friends through. Guidelines are critical because they regulate the officers’ discretion and reduce the changes of arbitrary enforcement. Unfortunately, that does not mean that the involved officers have to personally read the guidelines.

In Santilli v. State, the Court concluded that there is no requirement that each officer personally read the written guidelines. It was sufficient for the supervisor to discuss the operational plan with the other officers and give them specific instructions on their duties, including the methods to use for encounters resulting from the roadblock.

The Florida Supreme Court reiterated the critical nature of detailed written guidelines in Campbell v. State. The Court said this requirement is not merely a formality, but rather, “it is the method this Court… [has] chosen to ensure that the police do not act with unbridled discretion in exercising the power to stop and restrain citizens who have manifested no conduct that would otherwise justify an intrusion on a citizen’s liberty.” Further, the Court ruled that the holding in Jones “requires particularized advance planning and direct and strict compliance thereafter.”

  1. Second, the safety of motorists must be assured by law enforcement personnel.

  2. Third, the degree of intrusion and length of detention must be minimized.

  3. Lastly, the district court in Jones required that the roadblock be significantly more effective in combating a serious crime problem than other less intrusive means, and the Florida Supreme Court did not alter the requirement.

When it comes to DUI checkpoints, there is no shortage of case law to deal with and no amount of Google-fu that can replace an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney, much less a Board Certified Expert in Criminal Trial Law. This is why if you have been arrested after being stopped at a Florida DUI checkpoint, it is so important to immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Delgado & Romanik. Let us work hard on your behalf to determine if the police have followed the law as part of our comprehensive attack on your arrest.

How can I find out if there is a DUI checkpoint near me?

Many cities in Volusia, Flagler, St. Johns, and Seminole Counties use DUI checkpoints to try and catch drunk drivers or scare drivers into better behavior. Port Orange in particular has been doing a lot of DUI checkpoints, while Daytona Beach Shores, known to be very aggressive on traffic issues, does not currently use DUI checkpoints at all. Since a DUI checkpoint must be advertised in advance, you can check the following places for DUI checkpoint alerts:

Local Newspapers’ Websites

When local newspapers find out about an upcoming DUI checkpoint, they typically post an article outlining the exact date and address of the scheduled event.

Local Newspapers
Daytona Beach News-Journal
WFTV
Flagler Live: DUI Checkpoints
News4Jax
The St. Augustine Record
Orlando Sentinel

Local Law Enforcement Agencies’ Websites & Social Media

In addition to their formal websites, many police agencies promote awareness of their operations on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.

Local Law Enforcement Agencies
Social Media
Daytona Beach Police Department
Facebook
Twitter
Volusia County Sheriff's Office
Flagler Beach Police Department
Flagler County Sheriff's Office
St. Augustine Police Department
St. Johns County Sheriff's Office
Sanford Police Department
Seminole County Sheriff's Office

Delgado & Romanik

We post DUI checkpoint alerts on our social media accounts to keep all of our followers alert and aware.

Delgado & Romanik
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram

Timing and Placement of DUI Checkpoints

Law enforcement agencies target the holiday season for increased DUI enforcement, which may include increased numbers of officers on the road looking for drunk drivers or special “wolf pack” operations targeting problem areas. DUI checkpoints are often part of these increased enforcement efforts. However, timing and placement are important factors for DUI checkpoints since checkpoints slow down traffic to a crawl while extra officers on the road should not. During holiday times like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Eve, or special events such as Bike Week, Biketoberfest, or a NASCAR race, you are more likely to encounter a heavy police presence on the road than a checkpoint.

What are my rights at a Florida DUI checkpoint and how should I handle them?

Do you remember our controversial lawyer friend and his “legal rights” flyer? The front went something like this: “I remain silent - no searches - I want my lawyer.” The back of the sign reminds the intrepid driver: “Do not speak at all - not one word - record everything.” It tells the driver to show his or her license, registration, and insurance through the window so they don’t have to open it.

Obviously, the goal is to give police officers as little information as possible about the driver’s appearance (bloodshot eyes, disheveled hair, etc.) while also preventing them from smelling the odor of alcohol and hearing slurred speech. We recommend a less bold strategy.

First, if you are concerned about your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, do not drive. Ride sharing services are quick and easy today, and you can get one at almost any time throughout central Florida.

That being said, if you see you are approaching a DUI checkpoint or any other roadblock, there will frequently be a turnoff route, designed to apprehend those clever drivers trying to avoid the checkpoint ahead. Unless your way home requires you to take the alternative path, avoid the detour.

As you approach the checkpoint, be sure to obey all posted speed signs and slow down for everyone’s safety. Florida law requires a safe staging area, so take advantage of your surroundings to make sure your have your driver’s license, registration, and insurance on hand. If you have your insurance card saved in a phone application, now is the time to pull it up. Mouthwash, perfume, and cigarette smoke are considered obvious coverups and will alert the officer’s suspicion.

Once the officer is at your window, you have a choice to make. Remember that a DUI checkpoint is just the beginning - it is how the police stopped you. You still have to make many decisions, including whether or not to submit to a breath test. There are too many variables to trust your future to a flyer. So, you can take the approach suggests in the “legal rights” flyer and try to represent yourself, or you can have our office on speed dial (386-255-1400) and call us if you are confronted with a DUI checkpoint. We are available for emergency calls 24/7, 365 days a year. This will give you a chance to receive accurate legal information from an experienced Florida DUI attorney who can give you fact-specific information and help you decide how to best handle the officers you will encounter.

We know the law and we know your rights. Let us help you make sure they are scrupulously honored. If you want a card to press against the window, visit our office locations in Daytona Beach or DeLand to receive a free “Know Your Rights” card, which you can keep in your wallet to carry with you at all times.

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