YOUR RIGHTS IN A DUI CHECKPOINT
There are four general types of checkpoints you might encounter: DUIÂ checkpoints, US border checkpoints, drug checkpoints, and TSA checkpoints. In a legal sense, they are not all created equal. So depending on which one you encounter, youâ€™ll want to be prepared to flex your rightsÂ appropriately.
Sobriety checkpoints â€“ also known as DUI checkpoints â€“ are the most common roadblocks you might encounter. They function as a general purpose investigatory tactic where police can get a close look at passing motorists by detaining them briefly. A roadblock stop is quick, but it gives police a chance to check tags and licenses, while also giving officers a quick whiff of the driverâ€™s breath and a chance to peer into the vehicle for a moment.
Remember that your constitutional rights still apply in a roadblock situation. Though police are permitted to stop you briefly, they may not search you or your car unless they haveÂ probable causeÂ that youâ€™re under the influence or you agree to the search. As such, you are not required to answer their questions or admit to breaking the law.
Since the Supreme Courtâ€™s ruling inÂ Illinois v. CaballesÂ police have more leeway to use drug-sniffing dogs in roadblock situations. Thereâ€™s no need to waive your rights simply because dogs are present. But be advised that your legal options are limited if youâ€™re arrested as a result of a dog sniff during a roadblock.
Also keep in mind that police closely monitor cars approaching the roadblock. So youâ€™re not likely to have any success trying to evade it.
Sobriety checkpoints are generally permitted by the courts, but only if conducted properly. If youâ€™re arrested at a police roadblockÂ alwaysÂ consult an attorney before confessing or agreeing to a plea bargain. There might be some legal options that your lawyer can pursue.
US Border Checkpoints
Be aware that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents â€“ which are part of the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) â€“ are permitted to search you and your belongings at the U.S. borderÂ withoutÂ probable causeÂ or aÂ search warrant. So anytime you cross the border, you consent to a search.
CBP may generally stop and search the property of anyone entering or exiting the U.S. If agents haveÂ reasonable suspicionÂ to believe youâ€™re concealing contraband, they may search your body using pat-down, strip, body cavity, or involuntary x-ray searches.
Searches of Electronic Devices
The Ninth Circuit Court of AppealsÂ recently ruledÂ that Homeland Security border agents must have reasonable suspicion before they can legally conduct a forensics search of laptops, mobile phones, camera memory cards, and other electronic devices.
Unfortunately, this limited ruling still permits agents to conduct a â€œquick lookâ€ laptop search, such as asking you to turn on your laptop to peek at open windows. So always password protect your files before crossing the border. And, of course, never voluntarily give agents your password.
Checkpoints Near the Border
Be aware that DHS agents have recently set up constitutionally-questionable â€œsecurity checkpointsâ€ up to 100 miles inside U.S. territory. If you should drive into one of these roadblocks, you areÂ notÂ required to answer the agentâ€™s questions (usually starting with â€œAre you a United States citizen?â€). Nor are you required to consent to any searches.
Drug Checkpoints (itâ€™s a trap!)
The Supreme Court has ruled thatÂ random checkpoints for the purpose of finding illegal drugs are unconstitutional.Â However, some police departments have devised a deceptive method to work around and exploit this restriction.Â Hereâ€™s how their trick works.
Police departments sometimes put up signs warning drivers of upcoming drug checkpoints. (This alone is not illegal.) But they willÂ notÂ pull over people who go through a checkpoint â€“ because thereÂ technicallyÂ is no checkpoint. Instead, officers will watch for vehicles approaching the nonexistent checkpoint and pull over for vehicles who make illegal u-turns or discard contraband in order to avoid the fictitious â€œDrug Checkpoint Ahead.â€
So if you see such signs,Â keep driving and donâ€™t panic. If thereâ€™s a rest area following the sign, DO NOT pull into it. If you do, you might find yourself surrounded by drug-sniffing dogs.
Police departments, especially in the Mid-west, have been pushing their luck with this tactic, so if you encounter anything resembling an actual drug checkpoint, please contact that stateâ€™sÂ ACLU Chapter. Similarly, if youâ€™re arrested as a result of a real or fake â€œdrug checkpoint,â€ you must contact an attorney to explore your legal options.
Be aware that Transportation Security Agency (TSA) agents â€“which are part of the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) â€“ are permitted to search you and your belongingsÂ withoutÂ probable causeÂ or aÂ search warrantÂ anytime you pass through a TSA airport security zone.
The ACLU also keeps aÂ Know Your Rights When TravelingÂ page. Itâ€™s got handy tips for dealing with â€œspot interviewsâ€ and opting out of nude body scanners.
TSAâ€™s Mysterious ID Requirement
Many folks are concerned about the TSAâ€™s requirement that passengers show a photo identification before passing through security. Of particular concern, is TSAâ€™s persistentÂ refusal to release the text of the law that it uses to justify that requirement. For more on the sheer absurdity of the policy, read security expert Bruce Schneierâ€™s.