In 2019, Virginia officers arrested 20,402 people for driving while under the influence. Many of these arrests took place during a Virginia DUI/DWI checkpoint setup. While many question the constitutional legality of these checkpoints, they are currently allowed in Virginia. If you find yourself in one, the best thing to do is not panic. If you haven’t been drinking, you have done nothing wrong and should be fine. To help you feel more prepared, these are six things you should know about DUI/DWI checkpoints in Virginia.
1. Do Not Try to Avoid It
The worst thing you can do when driving at a DUI/DWI checkpoint is turn around by making an illegal U-turn and attempting to avoid it. The police are prepared for this and will have an officer to stop these people. This chase car will see you turn around and will pull you over. The assumption is that you are turning around because you have been drinking and do not want to get caught.
However, there are rules for how the roadblock must be positioned. For example, it must be where an approaching vehicle can turn down an adjacent street before entering the roadblock. There are also must be an alternative route for an approaching car to avoid the checkpoint. These rules are a distinction from the previous paragraph, where you are not allowed to turn around and travel in the opposite direction from the checkpoint.
2. DUI/DWI Checkpoints Are Announced
Before the police can set up a checkpoint, they must publicly announce where and when the checkpoint will take place. This gives Virginia drivers plenty of notice about where they can expect a checkpoint. However, despite this advance notice, checkpoints remain an effective tool for making DUI/DWI arrests.
3. There Must be a Plan
There must be a system and written plan for how the checkpoint will operate. Officers cannot pull vehicles over and search them at random. Instead, they could pull over every third vehicle, every vehicle traveling over a certain speed, or other criteria. The criteria just need to be neutral in nature. In addition, there needs to be one specific location for the checkpoint. An alternate is allowed, but it can only be used if the initial location is deemed unsafe.
4. They Cannot Check Every Car
While there must be a plan in place, the plan cannot be to check every car. If you see the officers requiring every vehicle to stop and get checked, this is an issue. Your lawyer will want to know if this happened when representing you.
5. Police Can Make Mistakes
Unlike a single traffic stop, a checkpoint processes a high number of drivers. There are also several officers working the roadblock versus one or two officers that perform a single stop. Because of this, the occurrence of mistakes tends to be more often. There could be a lack of consistency or a failure to uphold standards. Speaking to a Virginia DUI/DWI lawyer can help you understand the laws and regulations that police officers must follow. Your lawyer will carefully review the circumstances surrounding your arrest and the paperwork prepared by the officers. Errors can be a weak point in the state’s case against you.
6. Stay Calm and Silent
Don’t panic if you suddenly find yourself at a DUI/DWI checkpoint. Stay calm and follow the rules of the road. You don’t want to get an unnecessary ticket because you panicked and performed an unsafe or illegal maneuver. Once stopped, be polite and do what the officer asks of you, within reason. You are not required to let the officer search your vehicle unless there is a legal reason for it. The officer may ask you questions about where you are coming from and where you are going. You do not have to answer these questions and can politely decline. In addition, the officer has to have reason to believe you are under the influence of alcohol for them to ask you to take a BAC or field sobriety test. When in doubt, it’s best to stay silent and not incriminate yourself.