If you've been convicted of a DUI arrest at a DUI checkpoint in South Carolina, you could be in a lot of trouble. South Carolina law enforcement officers use a number of methods to catch drivers operating vehicles while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. One frequently used method is the use of vehicle checkpoints to screen a greater number of motorists.
The multi-purpose benefits of these checkpoints makes them a valuable method of catching not only drunk drivers, but also those operating a vehicle without a valid license and drivers with outstanding warrants. Law enforcement officials are required to follow specific procedures when establishing a checkpoint, however, and failing to do so can result in disallowed evidence in court. Our experienced DUI attorneys at TF Law know what officers are permitted to do at DUI checkpoints and when they are overstepping their bounds. If you have been arrested at a DUI checkpoint, contact our talented legal team today to schedule a free case consultation.
Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in SC?
Yes, DUI checkpoints are legal in South Carolina. This does not mean, however, that law enforcement officers are allowed to establish checkpoints at their own discretion. Checkpoints may only be set up under certain and specific conditions. These conditions include:
- Approval from supervisors. Supervisory personnel are required to approve the establishment of a checkpoint, the choice of location for the checkpoint, and the procedures to be followed on site while the checkpoint is operational. Each checkpoint approved is also required to have direct oversight by a uniformed supervisory officer.
- Law enforcement is required to have a legitimate reason for establishing a checkpoint at the chosen location. This could be something as simple as a noticeable increase in DUI arrests in the surrounding area.
- Vehicles must be stopped in a way that is in accordance with a neutral formula. This means that randomized stops are not allowed. The checkpoint will be required to follow a specific procedure, such as stopping every third vehicle.
- Law enforcement officers are required to maintain a safe checkpoint site. Common safety precautions include warning signs and signals, and proper lighting on location if necessary. Additionally, the officers must use plainly identifiable official vehicles and wear their uniforms. The checkpoint site is also required to have markers identifying it as either a license or DUI checkpoint.
- Officers cannot hold drivers for longer than necessary. While South Carolina law does not specifically dictate what is or is not a brief stop, checkpoints are required to have procedures in place to ensure drivers are not being held for unnecessarily long times.
- The checkpoint must be effective, and there must be evidence that the checkpoint was done in the public's interest. The prosecution will usually demonstrate this by supplying the number of traffic or criminal violations caught at the checkpoint.
- The checkpoint must be publicized, with the announcement including the date and location to be used.
These requirements help prevent abuse of checkpoints by law enforcement officials, and in fact, if you are arrested at a DUI checkpoint, the prosecutor will have to show that it did not violate your 4th amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
What Are Your Rights at a DUI Checkpoint?
Drivers in South Carolina are required by law to stop at checkpoints and provide officers with certain information. This does not mean, however, that your rights are forfeit during these interactions. Like any dealings with law enforcement officers, it is important for you to know what is and what is not a protected right at sobriety checkpoints.
What Are You Required to Do?
- You are required to comply with an officer's request for documentation, including your driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance.
- You are required to exit your vehicle if an officer directs you to do so. Should you refuse, you will likely face charges.
What Are You NOT Required to Do?
- You are not required to answer any investigatory questions asked by police officers.
- You are not required to perform any field sobriety tests. These tests are demonstrably inaccurate as a true gauge of sobriety and even sober individuals may fail them in high stress situations. However, if you are arrested and charged with a DUI, performing well on a field sobriety test can actually be beneficial to your case.
- You are not required to perform a field breathalyzer test. Do not confuse this with a breathalyzer test performed at the police station. If you are arrested for a DUI at a checkpoint, you will take a mandatory breathalyzer test at the station. Refusing to take this test will result in an automatic 1 year suspension of your driving privileges.
What to Do if You Are Stopped at a Checkpoint
If you find yourself being stopped at a South Carolina checkpoint knowing how to behave can help you avoid seeming suspicious. Stay calm if you are stopped. Acting aggressively, overly nervous, or generally being disruptive during your stop will only draw more attention to yourself, regardless of whether it is warranted.
It is also usually in your best interest to be cooperative. There is a fine line here between knowing and acting within your legal rights, and acting in a way that could be viewed as suspicious or even antagonistic. While you may not be legally required to roll your window down and speak with an officer at a checkpoint, you will only be prolonging the time you are stopped by choosing not to. Address the police officer politely, hand over your documents when requested, but do not answer questions that may incriminate you. You may choose to do this by informing the officer that you are exercising your right to remain silent and leave it at that.
What to Do After an Arrest at a DUI Checkpoint
South Carolina takes drunk driving offenses seriously. The penalties that are handed out following a DUI conviction can take a major tole on your financial wellbeing, personal life, and professional opportunities. If you are facing a DUI charge, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. By obtaining qualified an talented legal representation, you are taking an important first step toward protecting your constitutional rights and building a strong defense for your case. Contact a defense lawyer at TF Law today to schedule a free initial consultation to see what we can do for your unique case.