3 Things I Didn’t Know About DUI Checkpoints in Indiana
We are fortunate to live in a time where innovation has given us multiple options to get home safely after going out for drinks beyond calling a cab or having someone in the group volunteer to not have any alcohol so they can be the designated driver for the night. While those two options are still perfectly good, and better than no options at all, the rise of ride-sharing services, Uber and Lyft, over the past several years has made it even easier to get home in a way other than driving yourself because you "only had a few," or you don't think you're that bad. However, as we know, many people push their luck and try to drive themselves home regardless of how many drinks they've had. As long as that continues, law enforcement across Indiana will continue to set up DUI checkpoints in an effort to keep the roads safe. I've always assumed that if you see a checkpoint on the road, you are required to go through it. But, that's not the case. As it turns out, you do have rights.
Before we get too deep into this, let me be perfectly clear in saying the reason I'm sharing this information is NOT to help someone who's driving that shouldn't be avoid getting out of being cited for impaired driving. Nor is it a knock against law enforcement officers. I know several police officers, sheriff's deputies, and state troopers, and they are simply doing what they swore an oath to do, serve and protect the residents of their town/city/county. With that said, let's take a look at how you can make sure you're treated fairly.
Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in Indiana?
Despite arguments that checkpoints violate the fourth amendment of the U.S. Constitution (protection from unreasonable searches and seizures), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 in the case of the Michigan Dept. of State Police vs. Sitz that temporary checkpoints do not violate our constitutional right because the benefit of keeping the roads safe for drivers outweighs the inconvenience of being stopped for a short amount of time. "The greater good," if you will.
Even with that, the decision to set up and conduct DUI checkpoints from time to time is up to each individual state. According to the law office of Keffer|Hirschauer, LLP, Indiana is one of 37 states where checkpoints are allowed. But, there are guidelines law enforcement agencies must follow when conducting a checkpoint. For example, they must be publicized ahead of time, officers conducting the checkpoint must be identifiable, and be located at a random location, just to name a few.
Three Rights Indiana Motorists Have at a DUI Checkpoint
First of all, in the event you see a checkpoint up ahead while your driving one night, you are not required to drive through it. As long as you make a legal move with your vehicle such as turning on a side street ahead of the checkpoint (and indicating you are turning by using your turn signal, of course), you can go around it. Could that cause the officers on site to become suspicious? Maybe. But, not as much as if you were to put the pedal to the floor, squeal the tires, and make an illegal U-turn in the middle of the street.
Right #1 - Unreasonable Length of Time for the Stop
Officers cannot hold you at a checkpoint for an "unreasonable" amount of time if its clear you're not violating any laws. So, what constitutes a reasonable amount of time? Between 30 seconds and two minutes, according to Keffer|Hirschauer. The exception would be if they believe they have evidence you have been drinking such as physical impairments (glassy eyes, slurred speech, etc.), there's an odor of alcohol coming from your car, or they see physical evidence alcohol has been consumed, like an open or empty container.
Right #2 - Not Every Question Needs to Be Answered
According to the Law Offices of Stracci Law Group in Crown Point, Indiana, there is some information you are required to provide in the event you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint including your name, date of birth, current address, and driver’s license. However, you don't have to answer every question the officer asks. For example, where you're going or what you've been doing. You are completely within your rights to refuse to provide any information outside of what you are required by law. Of course, if you choose not to answer a question, do so in a respectful manner to the officer. Getting belligerent or raising your voice in frustration or anger won't do you any favors.
Right #3 - You Can Refuse a Field Sobriety Test
In the event an officer at a checkpoint believes may be a danger to other drivers on the road, they may ask you to step out of your vehicle and go through a field sobriety test. Keffer|Hirschauer notes that an officer may word it in a way that will feel like you have no choice, but you do. Now then, would that seem a bit suspicious? It would to me if I were an officer.
Let's say you refuse. That doesn't mean the officer is just going to let you go. It's important to know officers have another option, and it's one you can't refuse — a chemical test, the most common of which is a breathalyzer test (the modern version of which was invented in Indiana, by the way). You can't refuse that because in Indiana, just by having a driver's license you've given law enforcement "implied consent" to take the test, according to the GDS Law Group.
Gregory A. Miller, an attorney in Ft. Wayne goes on to say, "Your license will be automatically suspended for a minimum of one year. If you have a prior OWI/DUI conviction, your license will be suspended for two years."
Of course, at the end of the day, the best way to avoid getting into trouble is to not drink and drive. Call a cab, order an Uber, have a friend or family member come pick you up, anything other than getting behind the wheel and trying to get yourself home. Is it ideal to leave your vehicle in a bar or restaurant parking lot all night long? No. There's always the chance someone could break into it, or it gets stolen. But, that's better than what could happen if you cause an accident because you were too stubborn to find another way home.
You can read more about your rights at a DUI checkpoint on the Keffer|Hirschauer, LLP website.