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DWI checkpoints — understanding your rights

You’re driving along a Missouri roadway when you come upon a section of road where traffic is coming to a stop. You see police lights, multiple patrol vehicles and numerous police officers approaching various drivers. You realize then that it’s a DWI checkpoint — essentially, a police roadblock. You wonder if it’s even legal and if you’re required to stop.

In everyday circumstances, police must have a justifiable reason for making a traffic stop. For example, they catch you driving over the posted speed limit on a radar gun or notice that one of your taillights is not functioning. If an officer witnesses your car swerve over the yellow line, he or she may stop you for suspected drunk driving. However, at a DWI checkpoint, they are stopping vehicles randomly, which has spurred many debates as to whether these roadblocks are a civil rights violation.

Missouri police may not use profiling at DWI checkpoints

Police may predetermine that they will stop every fifth car in a line of vehicles. However, they can’t target you because of your gender, type of vehicle, estimated age or any other identifying characteristic. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that, if the police properly execute DWI checkpoints, they are not invasive enough to be unconstitutional. Many state constitutions, including Missouri’s, have also supported the legality of police checkpoints.

In most states, police must notify the public ahead of time regarding the date, time and location that they plan to implement a DWI checkpoint. As for whether you’re obligated to stop at a police checkpoint, it is not necessarily against the law if you attempt to avoid it. If you make a U-turn, for instance, or any other driving maneuver to avoid stopping at a DWI roadblock, the maneuver must be legal.

Are you obligated to comply with requests at a DWI checkpoint?

In Missouri or any other state, if a police officer orders you to exit your vehicle, you must obey. However, you are not obligated to answer questions and do not have to take a preliminary alcohol screening or field sobriety test if asked to do so. Just keep in mind that refusing to comply does not guarantee that you won’t face arrest for suspected drunk driving.

If police establish probable cause to make a DWI arrest, you’ll be taken to a Missouri county jail, at which time you are obligated to submit to a chemical test upon request. You still do not have to answer questions if you have not had the opportunity to obtain legal representation. Such representation is often the key to securing a positive outcome in court.

Posted in DWI