You have no doubt heard of DUI checkpoints in South Carolina, and you may have even been stopped in one. Many people wonder about the legality of stopping drivers as a matter of course the way checkpoints do, which is a valid question, and the truth is that – like so many other things when it comes to the law – it’s complicated.
If you are facing a DUI charge, reaching out to the professional legal counsel of an experienced South Carolina DUI attorney is the surest way to help protect your legal rights.
DUI Checkpoints in SC
Law enforcement in South Carolina has the legal right to stop motorists briefly for the purpose of checking each driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance.
While DUI checkpoints are also allowed, all Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure must be upheld. As such, when an arrest is forthcoming, the prosecution has the burden of demonstrating that the defendant’s rights weren’t trampled.
Are Sobriety Checkpoints Legal in South Carolina?
You have the right not to be subjected to either unreasonable search or unreasonable seizure, and while a mandatory checkpoint may strike you as flying in the face of this right, the United States Supreme Court doesn’t see it this way.
Brief stops for ensuring that driving requirements are in order and detecting impairment have been upheld as not infringing on Fourth Amendment rights, but this doesn’t mean that every checkpoint meets the relevant legal requirements.
The legality of specific DUI checkpoints generally hinges on factors such as the following:
- How the checkpoint was organized
- How the checkpoint was conducted
- Evidence related to the checkpoint’s relative success in terms of issuing DUI charges
The Legal Requirements for DUI Checkpoints
For a DUI checkpoint to be considered legal, there is a wide range of requirements that must be met.
Having a valid reason for setting up the checkpoint
The police do not have the authority to set up DUI checkpoints at random. However, for example, if a specific area has experienced more than its fair share of dangerous drunk driving accidents, a DUI checkpoint may be a valid response.
Having supervisory approval of the checkpoint
Police officers don’t have the legal authority to set up their own DUI checkpoints on a whim. In order for checkpoints to be legal, law enforcement at the supervisory level must approve all the following:
- The decision to set up the DUI checkpoint in the first place
- The location of the checkpoint
- The checkpoint’s operational procedures
Finally, a uniformed supervisory officer must oversee the operation itself.
Publicizing the DUI checkpoint
The police are also required to publicize both the date and the location of all checkpoints. As such, random checkpoints are not legal – in the sense that motorists must be forewarned.
While DUI checkpoints are legal within these careful parameters, those checkpoints that fall outside these highly specific requirements are not.
The Rules of Operation at SC DUI Checkpoints
In addition to the requirements for setting up a DUI checkpoint in South Carolina, law enforcement must adhere to exacting operational guidelines.
Predictably patterned stops
When police officers set up DUI checkpoints, they can’t stop vehicles randomly or according to their own preference. Instead, if law enforcement does stop motorists, they must do so in accordance with a neutral pattern. When every third car is stopped – for example – the police have no input or sway in terms of who will be stopped and who won’t.
Safe and easily identifiable stopping sites
DUI checkpoints must take safety into careful consideration, including concerns like the following:
- Ensuring the necessary warning lights, signs, and signals are implemented
- Ensuring that drivers have the warning necessary to come to safe, complete stops
- Ensuring there is adequate lighting
Further, the checkpoint must identify itself as either a license and registration checkpoint or a DUI checkpoint and cannot be a guessing game in which law enforcement is on the hunt for whatever they can find.
Finally, officers must be uniformed, and their vehicles must be clearly identifiable.
While there is no predetermined time limit for checkpoint stops in South Carolina, there is a requirement that they are brief – in the sense that they can’t last any longer than is necessary. As such, each stop is judged on a case-by-case basis.
Checkpoints must serve the interests of the public (and not the interests of law enforcement). Effectiveness is generally demonstrated when DUI checkpoints lead to DUI charges, which serves the public’s interest by helping to keep impaired drivers off our roads.
If You’re Stopped at a DUI Checkpoint
If you are pulled over at a DUI checkpoint, there are several things you should keep in mind to help ensure that your legal rights are well protected throughout and that the experience proceeds as smoothly as possible. These include:
- Remain calm
- Cooperate with law enforcement without saying anything that might incriminate you (you have the right to remain silent in the face of questions put to you by the police)
- Get out of your car if you’re asked to do so
It’s important to note that declining a field sobriety test, which is notoriously unreliable, is generally advised against. If you are charged with DUI at a DUI checkpoint, it’s time to take action by reaching out to a dedicated DUI attorney at your earliest opportunity to do so.
An Experienced South Carolina DUI Attorney Is on Your Side
If you are facing a DUI charge after being stopped at a DUI checkpoint, the trusted Greenville DUI attorneys at Bannister, Wyatt & Stalvey have a wealth of impressive experience successfully guiding challenging cases like yours toward advantageous outcomes that support our clients’ rights.
We’re here for you, too, so please don’t delay reaching out and contacting or calling us at 864-523-6928 for more information today.