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Know your rights at a DUI checkpoint

Recently we discussed the fact that police can arrest people for driving under the influence after they've reached their destination and are no longer in their vehicle. Obviously, as we noted, the more time that's passed since you were behind the wheel, the more difficult it may be to prove that you were indeed DUI. However, it's still a possibility that Connecticut drivers should be aware of.

Another common question when it comes to DUIs is about the legality of the checkpoints that we see pop up on Connecticut roads on weekends and particularly around holidays like New Years. People may wonder why they don't violate drivers' Fourth Amendment rights that protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on this question about 25 years ago. The justices ruled that DUI checkpoints are indeed legal and constitutional. Requiring all cars to pull over and remain until released may be seen as a type of "seizure." However, the Supreme Court determined that it's a minimally-invasive one, and that the benefit of catching drunk drivers outweighs any compromise to someone's constitutional rights caused by a DUI checkpoint.

The question of searches is another matter. Just as when you're pulled over for a traffic stop, there are limitations regarding under what conditions an officer can search a car without obtaining a warrant. A warrantless search has to be reasonable. An officer needs to have probable cause that some type of illegal activity is afoot. Of course, this can be a gray area.

It's important to know that if an officer sees something on the seat or floor of your vehicle that he or she believes to be illegal, that's considered to be in "plain view" and a warrant isn't needed for that to be used as evidence. Unfortunately, many people end up getting arrested for having drugs, alcohol or weapons lying where they can be seen when stopped by police at a DUI checkpoint or for a moving violation.

If your rights have been violated during a DUI checkpoint stop or traffic stop, the evidence gathered may be inadmissible. That's just one reason to have a Connecticut criminal defense attorney by your side when facing criminal charges. He or she can determine whether the officers' actions lead up to the arrest were proper and work to protect your rights.

Source: FindLaw, "Are DUI Checkpoints Legal?," accessed Dec. 31, 2015

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