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Fourth of July DUI in D.C. – Sobriety Checkpoint Checklist

by | Jun 29, 2013

Firecrackers may not be the only flashing lights you’ll see this Independence Day.

D.C. sobriety checkpoints on the Fourth of July are anticipated, as they have been regularly held in years’ past during the holiday weekend.

This year, the Fourth falls on a Thursday, which means many people will be taking an extra long weekend to kick back, grill out and down a few beers at the neighborhood barbeque. It’s part of American tradition, and despite what you may hear from law enforcement scare tactic campaigns, it’s not illegal to do so before getting behind the wheel.

Where people get into trouble is when they drink too much and don’t wait a sufficient amount of time before driving. That “too much” threshold is going to be different for each person, but it’s measured in terms of one’s blood-alcohol level at the time of arrest. If your BAL is higher than 0.08 percent, than you can be arrested for DUI. Commercial drivers can be arrested for a BAL of 0.04 percent. Those under the age of 21 need only have a BAL of 0.02 percent to be considered intoxicated.

Of course, police will attempt to gather more evidence aside from your breathalyzer results. This is where sobriety field tests come in, and they are conducted in almost every DUI arrest made at a checkpoint.

But as any good DUI defense lawyer will tell you, field sobriety tests are notoriously unreliable. They are subjective, based solely on observation and often, evidence later arises showing that officers had exaggerated or fudged the facts. Evidence of this will often lead to an immediate dismissal of all charges.

With checkpoints, a dismissal may be even easier to secure because there are so many rules associated with how law enforcement must conduct these operations. One slight slip-up, and your case is likely to be dropped.

D.C. Code allows police to establish drunk driving checkpoints throughout the municipality. However, the vehicles stopped have to be stopped at random, and the methodology by which they do so has to be established and in writing prior to the operation.

This might seem fairly simple, but a lot of times, officers don’t strictly follow this rule; they get distracted by another vehicle and may forget which car they are on. In some cases, they start plucking cars out of line with drivers they suspect might be drunk. But this is a violation of your rights.

What you need to understand if you are stopped in a D.C. sobriety checkpoint is that your rights here are the same as they are with any other traffic stop. This means you have the right not to provide any information aside from identifying yourself and providing your insurance and registration. You also have the right to decline to participate in field sobriety tests. If you know you are probably over the legal alcohol limit, you may also decline submission to the breathalyzer test. You do this at your own risk because you will automatically have your license suspended, but the flip side is that you may have a better chance of having the charges dropped if you do so because you’ve given the state less evidence with which to convict you.

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