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DUI Checkpoint Video Goes Viral

by | Jul 13, 2013

Video of a young man in Tennessee who was stopped at a DUI checkpoint has gone viral, racking up more than 2 million views, enraging citizens and raising questions about what a person’s rights are while they are going through a checkpoint.

Our D.C. DUI defense lawyers first want to start out by explaining what happened:

It was the 4th of July and officers in rural Tennessee were hosting a DUI checkpoint, as were countless other law enforcement agencies that evening.

The video, rolling in the console of the 21-year-old’s vehicle, shows the young man pulling up to the officer with the window cracked. The officer asks him to further roll down his window. The young man refuses, saying that he does not have to do so under the law.

The officer then asks the man to pull over. The officer won’t answer the young man’s question of whether he is being detained. He forces him out of the vehicle. The young man refuses to consent to a search. A drug-sniffing dog is brought to the site, scratching up the hood and side of the vehicle. The vehicle is searched and no drugs are found (though later police would say more than a week later that there was a small amount of marijuana “shake” in the console, for which the youth was not charged). At one point, an officer searching the car comments that the “alert wasn’t a very good one,” referring to the K-9’s indication that drugs may be in the vehicle.

The officer discovered the video in the console during the course of the search.

When the young man later asks about what probable cause the officer had to search the vehicle, he said the fact that the teen wouldn’t roll down the window and also the camera found in the console. However, this logic is inherently flawed: You can’t cite items found in a search as probable cause for the search.

Throughout the course of the interaction, the youth appeared calm and polite, but firm. The officer, meanwhile, appears flustered and agitated. At several points, one could interpret his behavior as outright rude.

It does not appear at any point during the interaction that the officer inquired as to whether the youth had been drinking, despite the fact that this was a DUI checkpoint.

The youth was ultimately allowed to leave without further incident.

There is no question as to whether police were allowed to hold the checkpoint. That much has been well-established by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whether the actions of the officer were appropriate, however, is questionable. For starters, we don’t know from the video whether officers followed the strict protocol for random stops as they are required by law to do. However, that issue hasn’t been raised.

Did the youth have a right not to roll down his window all the way? In theory, this could go either way. On one hand, he hadn’t done anything wrong and was simply exercising his rights. On the other hand, the officer might have chosen to charge him with misdemeanor obstruction. While you don’t have to answer any questions from police officers, you should comply with their orders, particularly if you hope to avoid their ire.

Officers have a right to ask you for your driver’s license, but not your ID. This is important because while drivers assume certain liabilities while being behind the wheel, passengers do not. Passengers have the right to refuse to provide identification, assuming officers haven’t determined a crime was committed or that there is any probable cause to suggest that.

The final issue is that of probable cause. Did the officer have probable cause to search the vehicle? Based on the video, one could argue he did not. The youth did not appear to be intoxicated and there was no indication that he had drugs or alcohol in his possession.

The fact that the K-9 unit alerted shows just how easily a false positive can occur. The sheriff’s later assertion that “two seeds and some marijuana grainlets” were found is questionable, at best, as even tiny amounts of the drug can be tested and result in charges. It appears clear form the video that had the officer had any reason whatsoever to charge this individual, he would have done so.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your DUI checkpoint arrest, call us today to learn more about how we can defend your rights and protect your interests.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC at 202-765-3175.