The Ultimate Guide to Your Rights at a DUI Block in Washington DC
A DUI block, more commonly referred to as a DUI checkpoint, can easily turn a night out into a stressful run-in with the law. Learn more here.
What Is a DUI Sobriety Checkpoint in Washington DC?
This refers to the setting up a roadblock by law enforcement to randomly stop cars and perform sobriety checks on drivers.
DUI road blocks tend to be common in areas with heavy nightclub and bar traffic and on days of the week when people are more likely to drive while intoxicated.
Once a police officer pulls you over on suspicion that you may have consumed drugs or been drinking recently, they will immediately begin their investigations.
The critical thing to note is that the police officers who pull you over need to establish that they had reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or criminal activity.
If you have been stopped at a checkpoint on suspicion of driving under the influence, contact the law office of Scrofano Law PC immediately.
We have a highly-skilled Virginia DUI lawyer, and by contacting us immediately, we can analyze the facts in your case and develop a legal defense more effectively.
DUI Roadblocks Are a Priority for Drunk Driving
Law enforcement in DC emphasizes drunk driving cases, given the drastic decrease in other violent crimes in the city.
Since the 80s and 90s, violent crime such as homicide and robbery has gone down significantly, which means the officers can focus their attention on other crimes such as drunk driving.
When crimes such as robberies, gun offenses, burglaries, and homicides went down, the state legislature instructed prosecutors and the police to focus more on drunk driving offenses.
Nonetheless, most people arrested and convicted in DC for driving while intoxicated do not reside in the city. Many are out-of-state residents from Virginia or Maryland visiting nightclubs or bars in downtown DC.
Since they do not understand the strict regulations in DC, they may drink, drive fast, cause accidents, and be arrested.
Whether you are a DC resident or just an out-of-town visitor arrested in DC for a DUI offense, contact Christopher J. Mutimer, a top DC DUI lawyer at Scrofano Law, for legal advice on how to go forward.
Scrofano Law has represented many clients, both residents and nonresidents, charged with such offenses with great success.
DUI Roadblock Regulations
Under the code, drunk driving roadblocks need to be publicized, and drivers made aware of the exact duration and location of the checkpoint. DUI roadblocks are usually not that common, and most arrests in DC are made from regular traffic stops all over the city.
Law enforcement officers can conduct investigations at roadblocks as long as they follow predetermined conditions, even when they have not established reasonable suspicion.
When your car approaches the traffic stop, the officer has the right to ask the driver to roll down the window and ask if they have been drinking.
The officer also has a right to smell the car and driver for alcohol. If the officer believes you have been drinking, they can conduct a formal investigation.
Every officer can pull a driver over for alleged criminal conduct or traffic offense anywhere in Washington DC. If the officer suspects you may be under the influence, they can call for backup officers to do additional investigations, including field sobriety testing.
Additional investigations usually do not require any kind of proof that you are intoxicated. Evidence that you took medication, drugs, or alcohol before driving the car is enough to give the officer a right to investigate further and make an arrest if necessary.
The Standard for an Arrest
Probable cause, a relatively low standard in DC, is needed before a DUI arrest. Being arrested does not usually mean that law enforcement has enough evidence to charge a drunk driving.
By working with an experienced attorney, you can discuss aspects of evidence and consider the various options available.
At Scrofano Law, we have extensive experience representing clients charged with drunk driving offenses, and we may provide you with advice on whether to negotiate a favorable agreement or go to trial and fight for an acquittal.
Locations of DUI Checkpoints
The DC city regulations and code allow law enforcement to set up drunk driving checkpoints anywhere in the District of Columbia.
Most checkpoints in DC are set up in places with a greater likelihood of drunk drivers. These may include places with higher concentrations of nightclubs and bars, such as downtown DC.
Even though officers must have probable cause to stop a driver suspected of drunk driving, they may sometimes pull over a car without probable cause. They typically have a lot of discretion in determining whether and when to pull you over.
In such instances, the officer will have to prove that they have a standardized operating procedure they follow at all times. For instance, officers may have decided beforehand to pull every fourth vehicle and perform field sobriety tests.
While this is how it is supposed to work, officers may get involved or distracted with another car and forget which car they should pull over next. Sometimes they will resort to randomly pulling over cars, which is illegal and violates your rights.
If you have been pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving or commission of any other crime, contact Scrofano Law immediately. Our lawyers may be able to get evidence excluded, challenge the checkpoint’s location and operation, and get the charge dropped.
How to Find DUI Checkpoint Locations
One of the greatest places to find sobriety checkpoints is the internet. You can always search online if there is a checkpoint in an area you live in or will be driving through as you travel.
Usually, all you have to do is type “sobriety checkpoint” or “DUI checkpoint,” and you should have news stories or announcements on where the blocks will be.
You can also go to Roadblock.org, which lists most drunk driving checkpoints. While it is rare, law enforcement may sometimes advertise on the morning news of the local news stations.
Since the police must publish where and when they will be setting up checkpoints, you may also check the local papers for such advertisements.
Roadblock Laws and DUI Charges
According to the DUI laws in DC, a person may not be in actual physical control or be found driving a car or vehicle while having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) greater than 0.08 or generally under the influence.
This definition of physical control is quite broad, and there are many circumstances under which you may be deemed to be in physical control of a vehicle when you believe you are not.
In People v. Davis, the court held that a motorist does not have to be driving the vehicle for them to be deemed in control of it. Whether they intended to put the car in motion or not is irrelevant to the determination of physical control.
Under the statute, “vehicle” means any device that may be used to transport property or any person that requires a certificate/license, except for devices powered by human effort. These may include motorcycles, trucks, lawnmowers, and anything operable that has an engine.
The statute excludes rollerblades, tricycles, and bicycles, but you could be charged if you put an electric motor on any of these devices. According to the statute, snowmobiles and trains or any vehicle that runs on tracks or rails do not fit the definition of vehicles.
Even for a car that won’t run or start, the regulations explicitly assert that a device will be deemed a vehicle until it qualifies as a junk vehicle under the code or obtains a junking certificate.
Under the regulations, a junk vehicle is one that is being or has been flattened, disassembled, compressed, crushed, destroyed, or reduced to a state in which it may never be returned to an operable condition.
As such, a car with its four wheels removed, the gas siphoned out, and the engine removed can still be deemed a vehicle as long as it can be returned to an operable state and does not qualify for junk status unless it has a junk certificate.
Note that drunk driving also includes helicopter and airplane pilots and boaters driving vehicles while impaired. It is also critical to consider that such regulations apply to private and public property.
An important thing to note is that there has been a change in roadblock laws such that a driver turning around does not imply guilt. As such, law enforcement may not chase you down if you turn around, as in some situations, you may want to take a different road or want to avoid the extra time at a roadblock.
How to Handle DUI Sobriety Checkpoints in Washington DC
If you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint in Washington DC, there are certain things you can do to protect your rights and potentially get the charge dismissed.
First and foremost, be aware of your fourth amendment rights. The fourth amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure by the government.
This means that the police must have a reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime before they can stop and search you.
If you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint, it is important to be polite and cooperative with the police. However, you are not required to answer any questions that could incriminate you.
It is also important to remember that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. If you are arrested, you should ask for an attorney and not answer any more questions.
Consult a Skilled DUI Lawyer For Help
If you or a loved one has been charged with driving under the influence, contact Scrofano Law immediately. We are equipped with a team of reputable attorneys with experience and skill working on such cases and have successfully managed to help our clients beat such charges in countless cases.
Contact us today, and we may help you avoid getting convicted. We understand the DC regulations and laws and can provide the legal advice or representation you need in court.
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