DUI defense: The rights of drivers at Massachusetts DUI checkpoints

Being stopped at DUI checkpoints often results in arrests for drivers, but by knowing their rights, they may help avoid these potentially serious charges.

Numerous people are arrested each year on suspicion of drunk driving in Massachusetts, and throughout the U.S. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 1.4 million people were arrested for driving under the influence in 2010, the most recent year with reported statistics. For some, their arrests come after being stopped at DUI checkpoints. To help avoid being taken into custody and charged at such stops, it is important for drivers to know their rights.

Responding to questioning

Most of the time, the first thing that law enforcement officers do at sobriety checkpoints is to approach the stopped vehicles and question the drivers. Motorists commonly feel obligated to roll down their windows and speak with the authorities. Doing so, however, could potentially incriminate them, or give law enforcement agents cause to investigate further.

In general, drivers do not have to answer these questions. Instead, they may choose to keep their windows rolled up. They may present the authorities with, or show them, a card that indicates they are exercising their constitutional rights. This means being able to refuse to speak to law enforcement until they have consulted with an attorney. Motorists may also ask to be allowed to go on their way if they are not being placed under arrest.

Performing field sobriety tests

In addition to questioning them, law enforcement officers may also ask drivers stopped at DUI checkpoints to perform roadside sobriety tests. When making their request, authorities may neglect to inform people that they are not legally required to agree. Drivers should keep in mind, however, that performing these tests could help prove to law enforcement that they have not been drinking.

When deciding whether or not to perform field sobriety tests, it is important for motorists to understand that refusing does not mean they cannot, or will not, be arrested. Rather, it may be more difficult for the authorities to prove their case in a criminal trial.

Submitting to breath tests

Should law enforcement decide to arrest people for DUI, they often ask them to provide a breath sample to determine their blood alcohol content levels. While drivers are able to refuse to submit to a breath test, they should know that doing so carries penalties. Typically, these consequences are imposed in addition to any that are handed down if they are convicted on DUI charges.

Under Melanie's Law in Massachusetts, refusing a breath test results in a suspension of people's driving privileges. The duration of their suspension depends on a number of factors, including any previous DUI convictions or refusals. For a first time DUI offense, people may be subject to a 180-day suspension.

Obtaining legal counsel

DUIs are serious charges, which may carry lasting consequences. Beyond the potential legal ramifications, drunk driving arrests may also impact people's personal lives and future employment opportunities. As such, those who have been charged with alcohol-related offenses may benefit from seeking legal representation. An attorney may help them establish a criminal defense, which might include questioning whether their rights were violated at a DUI checkpoint.