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What you should know about sobriety checkpoints

You're driving home after a dinner and drinks with some friends. Suddenly, up ahead you see signs indicating you are approaching a sobriety checkpoint. You're worried because you had a few glasses of wine with dinner. Are these sobriety stops legal?

Yes, here in Virginia, sobriety checkpoints are definitely legal. But, the police are limited in how they are conducted.

Guidelines for sobriety checkpoints

Below are a few things that you should know about sobriety checkpoints and the law.

  • They must be publicized in advance.

Law enforcement agencies have to publish notice of the checkpoints prior to setting them up. Notice may be a few days or a week and typically will be posted on the agency's website as well as on local TV and in community newspapers.

  • Cops can't stop each car or truck.

The police use a formula to decide which cars to stop, e.g., every third car. But that doesn't mean that they can't pull over another car if they think that the driver may be impaired or acting suspiciously while in the checkpoint line.

You may draw their attention to you

Maybe the officer sees you attempting to hastily buckle your seat belt. Perhaps you fumbled when handing over your license. Or they may detect the odor of marijuana in the vehicle. Many of your actions (or inaction) could cause the officer to give you more than a cursory glance as you pass through the checkpoint.

Know your rights under the law

You have the right to refuse the police permission to search your vehicle. They may ask all sorts of questions, like where you are going or where you have been. You are under no obligation to grant permission to search or to answer these questions.

But you should also know that the police can and likely will obtain a search warrant. Any contraband they find can then result in a criminal charge.

The law requires you to submit to a blood alcohol content (BAC) test. Virginia has implied consent laws that you agree to when you are licensed to drive. Refuse the test and your license will likely be suspended.

If you get arrested for DUI, exercise your right to remain silent. Then, after you get booked, asked to speak to a criminal defense attorney.

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