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Sobriety Checkpoints

DUI attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

A sobriety checkpoint is a specified roadblock set up by police to randomly stop vehicles to check if the driver is under the influence of alcohol or other unlawful substances. The purpose of a sobriety checkpoint is to deter drunk driving, and to reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents on the road. Drivers who are found to be impaired may be arrested and charged with driving under the influence (DUI) offense.

Florida is one of 38 states that allow law enforcement agencies to conduct sobriety checkpoints. That means Florida law enforcement can check incoming drivers for drunk driving as long as they don’t violate the driver’s constitutional rights. As a Florida driver, it is important to understand sobriety checkpoints and your rights in the event you are stopped by police.

Attorney for Arrests at Sobriety Checkpoints in Tallahassee, FL

If you were arrested for drunk driving or a similar offense at a DUI roadblock in North Florida, it is in your best interest to immediately seek out legal representation. Pumphrey Law aggressively defends clients arrested for DUI in Tallahassee, Bristol, Crawfordville, Monticello, Quincy, and many surrounding areas in the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region.

Don Pumphrey and the Tallahassee criminal defense lawyers at Pumphrey Law Firm will conduct a thorough investigation of how the sobriety checkpoint you were arrested at was conducted and how to fight to possibly get your criminal charges reduced or dismissed.

Call (850) 681-7777 today to have our attorneys review your case and discuss all your legal options during a free, confidential consultation.

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Leon County Sobriety Checkpoints Information Center

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History of Sobriety Checkpoints

In the 1979 case Brown v. State, El Paso Police officers stopped Zackary C. Brown after watching him leave a “suspicious” alley in the opposite direction of another man. Law enforcement stopped Brown and asked for his identification, as the area was known by police to have a high traffic of drugs. Brown refused, claiming they had no right to stop him. Brown was arrested for failure to identify himself to a police officer. The Supreme Court found that Brown’s Fourth Amendment rights had been violated because the officers had been unable to point to any facts supporting their conclusion that Brown coming out of the alley was “suspicious.”

Not only did this establish guidelines for officers but also helped raise concern for police stops and the Fourth Amendment.

Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, citizens shall be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. It’s important to note that the Fourth Amendment is not guaranteed protection from all searches and seizures from law enforcement, only from those which are deemed unlawful or unreasonable.

Roadblock procedures in Florida were established by the Florida Supreme Court decisions in: State v. Jones, 483 So.2d 433 (Fla. 1986) and Campbell v. State, 679 So.2d 1168 (Fla. 1996). In Jones, the Court explored the issue of whether warrantless temporary roadblocks shall be a legal tactic by police officer when it is established to apprehend persons driving while under the influence of alcohol.

State v. Jones –The Florida Supreme Court

In State v Jones, (1986) the Florida Supreme Court stated the following:

“Law enforcement officials must conduct sobriety checkpoints so as to minimize the discretion of field officers, thereby restricting the potential intrusion into the public’s constitutional liberties. Written guidelines should cover in detail the procedures which field officers are to follow at the roadblock. Ideally, these guidelines should set out with reasonable specificity procedures regarding the selection of vehicles, detention techniques, assignments, and the disposition of vehicles.”

The Supreme Court of Florida held that such roadblocks violate an individual’s Fourth Amendment Right against unreasonable searches and seizures when neutral guidelines for the stops are not followed. The Court wrote, “[p]aramount among all other considerations, the Fourth Amendment requires all seizures to be based on either”:

  1. Specific evidence of an existing violation;
  2. A showing that reasonable legislative or administrative inspection standards are met; or
  3. A showing that officers carry out the search pursuant to a plan embodying specific neutral criteria which limit the conduct of the individual officers.

Moreover, the Florida Supreme Court said, “it is essential that a written set of uniform guidelines be issued before a roadblock can be utilized.” These guidelines “should cover in detail the procedures which field officers are to follow at the roadblock,” and ideally should “set out with reasonable specificity procedures” regarding:

  • The selection of vehicles;
  • Detention techniques;
  • Duty assignments; and
  • The disposition of vehicles.

The key takeaway from this decision is the fact that officers are required to follow neutral guidelines to ensure that every driver stopped has the same type of intrusion and no person is being singled out.

Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz –US Supreme Court

In Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz (1990) the United States Supreme Court found that DUI checkpoints were constitutionally valid even if they had minimal effectiveness for the following reasons:

First, there is an inherent interest that the State possesses in preventing accidents by drunk drivers. This is a great interest that needs to be recognized when evaluating the intrusion into the citizen’s rights.

Second, while the level of intrusion on an individual’s privacy interest needs to be balanced against the State’s interest, such an intrusion is slight when each stop averages around 25 seconds, and the stops were conducted pursuant to neutral guidelines that involved every vehicle.

Third, even if there was only slight evidence showing that these stops were effective, that was enough in helping the State achieve its goals.

The US Supreme Court explained that the balance of the State’s interest in preventing drunk driving against the brief stops weighed in favor of the sobriety checkpoints. In other words, the Court found that these types of checkpoints were consistent with the Fourth Amendment and did not violate the driver’s rights.

Campbell v. State –The Florida Supreme Court

The Campbell v. State (1996) case further solidified sobriety checkpoints in Florida, after Phillip Campbell claimed the officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office conducted an unlawful seizure from a roadblock that was in violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth rights.

During the roadblock, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office only had one written instruction:

“Stop motorists on Mandarin Rd. for a traffic safety check. Have a motorcycle [with] radar on each end of check to monitor speed.”

In addition, verbal instruction was given by the head officer to the other officers who were actively stopping the drivers. One of these verbal instructions said to stop every car that passed through the designated roadblock. The roadblock lasted five hours and caused concern for safety due to the backed-up traffic.

When Campbell was stopped by one of the officers, he was arrested for having a suspended license. After he was taken into custody, police found cocaine and marijuana in one of his socks. The defendant’s counsel filed a motion to suppress, claiming the roadblock violated Campbell’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. 

The Florida Supreme Court agreed with Campbell, finding “the limited police directives used here do not limit police discretion and fall short of the discretion-limiting written set of uniform guidelines specifically required by us in [Jones]. In addition, the Court stated:

“In this country, the police are not vested with general authority to set up ‘routine’ roadblocks at any time or place. Rather, law enforcement was placed on notice by our holding in Jones that the stopping and detaining of a citizen is a serious matter that requires particularized advanced planning and direction and strict compliance thereafter.”

Thus, it is well established that a law enforcement agency must have written neutral guidelines before any sobriety checkpoint may be valid. Different law enforcement agencies have their own operating procedures, but all must conduct roadblocks in accordance with the guidelines required by these Supreme Court decisions.

Standard Sobriety Checkpoint Procedure

DUI checkpoints in Florida are legal, however, they must be conducted according to strict standards. Any deviation from the guidelines may result in the roadblock being declared illegal or unconstitutional. A defendant who was arrested at a checkpoint for DUI or any number of criminal offenses, (such as driving while license suspended, revoked, or expired), that was later declared illegal may be able to have his or her criminal charges dismissed. 

The standard procedures for a sobriety checkpoint in Florida include:

  • Decision-Making – A supervising officer shall make the decision to set up a sobriety checkpoint, based on the available data indicating an issue with impaired driving in the area.
  • Location – The checkpoint’s location shall be chosen based on its visibility and safety to approaching drivers, without being too intrusive to the road.
  • Public Notice – Law enforcement must provide the public with adequate notice of the checkpoint, including the location and times of operation, to reduce the intrusiveness of the checkpoints. This can include making a Facebook post or an Online blog on their website.
  • Operation Procedures – The checkpoint’s operation must follow a systematic and uniform manner. For example, stopping every third or fourth vehicle to avoid the appearance of discrimination.
  • Brief Detention – After the police have stopped a car for a sobriety check, the detention shall only last long enough for the officer to observe and assess whether the driver is impaired or not. In Florida, officers can only detain drivers at a checkpoint for three minutes.
  • Supervision – The checkpoint shall be supervised by a commanding officer, who is responsible for ensuring the checkpoint is operated in compliance with the established guidelines.
  • Data Collection – Sobriety checkpoints are evaluated based on data collected, including the number of vehicles stopped, the number of arrests made, and the number of citations issued.

DUI checkpoint procedures are designed to ensure that DUI sobriety checkpoints are conducted in a manner that is minimally intrusive, non-discriminatory, and effective in detecting and deterring impaired driving.

Florida’s Implied Consent Law

Under Florida Statute Section 316.1923, the law states that any person who accepts the privilege of operating a vehicle in Florida shall also be deemed to have given their consent to submit to an approved physical or chemical test including, but not limited to, an infrared light test of his or her breath for determining whether the driver is over the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08%.

The chemical or physical breath test must be incidental to a lawful arrest and administered at the request of a law enforcement officer who has reason to believe the driver operating the vehicle was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Any driver who refuses to administer any lawful test of his or her breath will result in their driver’s license being suspended for one year. If the driver has previously refused a test and refuses for a second time, their license will be suspended for 18 months in addition to being charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. The penalties for a first-degree misdemeanor include up to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

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DUI Penalties in Florida

Florida Statute Section 316.193 explains that a person is considered under the influence when their blood-alcohol level or breath-alcohol level is 0.08 or more. Operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or other substances can result in a driving under the influence (DUI) offense. In Florida, the penalties for DUI vary depending on the defendant’s criminal history, and the quantity of alcohol in their system. Penalties for DUI offenses can include the following:

  • First DUI Offense – Fine between $500 – $1,000 and up to six months of imprisonment
  • Second DUI Offense – Fine between $1,000 – $2,000 and up to nine months of imprisonment
  • Third DUI Offense – Fine between $2,000 – $5,000 and up to 12 months of imprisonment.
  • Fourth of Subsequent DUI Offense – Third-Degree Felony, with a minimum fine of $2,000 and up to five years of imprisonment.

In addition to imprisonment and fines, a defendant convicted of a DUI offense may be required to use an ignition interlock device (IID) or have their license suspended. To find out more information on DUI charges in Florida, read our page here.

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What To Do at Sobriety Checkpoints in Tallahassee

In the event you are stopped at a sobriety checkpoint in Florida, it is important to understand your rights, and what to do if those rights are violated.

When a DUI checkpoint is conducted lawfully, a police officer is allowed to require the stopped driver to present any identification, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance upon request.

When a driver is suspected of DUI, law enforcement will frequently ask the alleged offender to submit to a portable roadside breath test (breathalyzer). An individual who has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher can be arrested and charged with driving under the influence.

In addition, the driver could still be arrested even if he or she blows below 0.08 on the breath test. This can occur when the officer has reason to believe that the individual is “affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired.” Refusal to submit to a breath test may also result in a person being arrested.

Remember that you always have the right to legal counsel. You should contact a Tallahassee criminal defense attorney for assistance with any roadblock or checkpoint in Florida.

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Sobriety Checkpoint Resources in Florida

  • Sobriety Checkpoint Laws | Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA)
    GHSA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit representing the state and territorial highway safety offices (such as the Florida State Safety Office) that implement federal grant programs to address behavioral highway safety issues. The mission of GHSA is to “Provide leadership and advocacy for the states and territories to improve traffic safety, influence national policy, enhance program management and promote best practices.” On this section of the GHSA website, you can learn more about which states utilize sobriety checkpoints as well as how often such checkpoints are conducted.
  • Chapter 17.08 of the Florida Highway Patrol Policy Manual
    View the full text of FHP’s “guidelines for the use of Comprehensive Roadside Safety Checkpoints as part of a continuing, systematic and assertive enforcement program to identify persons who are operating a motor vehicle with defective equipment, without a valid drivers license or permit, without a proper vehicle registration, without proper insurance or while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.” You can learn more about officer responsibilities and procedures relating to checkpoint location selection, operational plans, and actual checkpoint procedures. Chapter 17.07 of the manual covers Drivers License and Vehicle Inspection Checkpoints.

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Pumphrey Law | Tallahassee Sobriety Checkpoint Defense Lawyer

Have you been recently arrested for DUI or another alleged criminal offense at a roadblock in North Florida? Do not say anything to the authorities until you have legal representation. Contact Pumphrey Law as soon as possible to discuss the possible defenses to your case.

Don Pumphrey and the criminal defense attorneys in Tallahassee at Pumphrey Law represent individuals in communities all over Leon County, Gadsden County, Jefferson County, Liberty County, and Wakulla County. You can have our lawyers provide an honest and thorough evaluation of your case when you call (850) 681-7777 or complete an online contact form to take advantage of a free initial consultation.

This article was last updated on May 3, 2023.

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