Driving or operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DWI/OUI) is something that the majority of drivers never have to deal with. For those that find themselves at a police checkpoint and under the scrutiny of a police officer, it is helpful to know what is legal and what they can legally do and what they cannot.
First are DUI checkpoints even legal?
It is helpful first to take a moment to define what a DUI checkpoint really is. Now and again, generally on weekend nights and on roads that are known to be used to evade police when a driver is impaired, the police of the local jurisdiction will set up what is known as a DUI checkpoint. At this checkpoint drivers will be asked a series of questions that will either clear them to continue on their journey home or that will lead to further questioning, field sobriety tests, and even perhaps a breathalyzer test or other roadside tests. We live in an age where technology is continually changing, growing and evolving which means that practices that may seem a bit old school like a DUI checkpoint are evolving as well. Since driving is considered a privilege under the law, rather than a civil right, DUI checkpoints are, indeed, legal.
What are police legally allowed to do at a checkpoint?
50 years ago, all that a driver had to contend with at a DUI checkpoint was to pass the field sobriety test that required them to walk a straight line heel to toe and recite the alphabet backwards. We have all seen the quintessential roadside test in movies where a driver fails it miserably. After the driver failed the test they would be taken into custody where they could be tested further. As technology evolved, the portable breathalyzer became available for use and many squad cars are now furnished with these machines that can effectively measure the amount of alcohol in your system. Failing a field sobriety test and a breathalyzer test was a one way ticket to jail until you sobered up and charges could be filed. As technology again began to change the roadside saliva test became popular.
All these tests are well within the legal limit of a police officer if they have reason to suspect you are in fact driving under the influence. Now that technology has evolved even more and police officers are able to obtain certification to draw blood, roadside blood tests are also legal, but within limits.
What makes a roadside blood test legal?
There are a few different ways to look at the roadside blood test, first, if you submit willingly to the test then the test is perfectly legal and any findings can be used against you in a court of law. If you do not submit willingly the police officers that are requesting the test still have ways of compelling you to submit. Electronic warrants are now more popular than ever and most officers can secure a warrant over the internet while you sit in your car refusing the blood test. There are judges that are willing to put their stamp of approval on these warrants, even at strange hours and in the middle of the night. After the warrant has been filed and approved, you must submit to the blood test.
Legal maybe, but are roadside blood tests safe?
There is some concern over the safety of these roadside tests. For the most part, many police stations have their own vans or other mobile units that are clean for the blood to be drawn in which protects both you and the sample from contamination. The officer taking the blood has to pass hours of training to be able to take a sample, and you are not going to be sitting on the side of the road in the dirt when the blood is drawn.
These tests can certainly help someone that has been accused of being under the influence, especially in cases where they may have used legal substances like marijuana but are not technically impaired.