What’s This I Hear About Avoiding a DUI Checkpoint?

Recently, I’ve been reading headlines and have even seen a few Youtube videos touting a method of avoiding contact with law enforcement during a DUI checkpoint. The technique involves making your driver’s license and vehicle registration visible to law enforcement without rolling down your window or otherwise making contact with any officers. However, I haven’t seen any legal authority as the basis for this theory. So I decided to check it out for myself and have some information for you to consider.

First, the United States Supreme Court has reviewed the constitutionality of a DUI checkpoint.
In Michigan Dept. of State Police et. al. v. Sitz et. al., 496 U.S. 444 (1990), the Court ruled that checkpoints are lawful invasions of a person’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. This is virtually the only time a law enforcement officer can detain a person without any suspicion of a crime. Nevertheless, Florida courts have acknowledged that it is a form of detention. Thankfully, there are rules law enforcement must follow. The agency conducting the checkpoint is required to have written guidelines that specifically articulate the policies, procedures, and detention techniques that will be used in the checkpoint. In State v. Jones, 483 So.2d 433 (Fla. 1986), the Florida Supreme Court listed several factors to help lower courts determine whether a checkpoint meets the proper standards. Since it is merely a list of factors, there are no bright-line rules, so anyone arrested for DUI at a checkpoint should hire a DUI attorney experienced enough in this area of the law to check your case for possible defenses. A copy of the written policies and procedures for every checkpoint should be obtained through discovery.

One of the important factors to consider is the purpose of the roadblock. A checkpoint used to detect ordinary criminal activity will not be constitutional. However, a checkpoint for the purpose of DUI detection or vehicle safety is lawful. The highest court in Florida that I have found addressing someone who refused to cooperate at a DUI checkpoint is the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court in Rinaldo v. State, 787 So.2d 208 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001). In this case, the defendant refused to roll down his window or have any contact with officers. Ultimately, he was arrested for Resisting an Officer Without Violence (“resisting without violence”), contrary to Florida Statute § 843.02. The reviewing court determined the checkpoint in question met constitutional standards. This essentially meant that the officers had lawfully stopped the Defendant and he was “under a legal obligation to respond to an officer’s request for certain information and documents, and the driver’s refusal to respond to these requests may constitute the misdemeanor offense of obstructing or opposing an officer.” Rinaldo, 787 So. 2d at 212.

The question then is whether putting your driver’s license and registration against your window without making contact with the officer going to satisfy law enforcement. The Rindaldo court did not discuss to what degree, if any, the defendant attempted to cooperate. Apparently, in some cases it does, and that is great. If the purpose of the checkpoint was to secure a crime scene or to identify a fleeing suspect, then it may be enough. But if the purpose of checkpoint is at least in part for DUI detection, then it may not work. What should you be prepared for in that case? The Rinaldo court did not say that lack of cooperation was necessarily evidence of criminal activity, but it did point out that other states have come to that conclusion (i.e. Virginia, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Alabama) and it did say that motorists are obligated to comply with an officer’s reasonable requests and must accept the minor inconvenience of the checkpoint. So, if refusing to cooperate is evidence of a crime, it would be resisting without violence.

There are four elements to the offense of resisting without violence. First, the Defendant resisted, obstructed, or opposed law enforcement. This is a broad element, which means that almost anything a person does can be constrained within this element. Second, at the time, the officer was engaged in the execution of legal process or lawful execution of a legal duty. This is critical element in checkpoint cases. If a judge determines the checkpoint met the constitutional guidelines of Jones, then almost anything a person does to interfere with an officer during the checkpoint can be the basis of a resisting charge. The final two elements are that the person was an officer and that the defendant knew the person was an officer. Those are relatively easy to either prove or disprove.

If an officer demands you to roll down your window, you should expect police detention and arrest procedures to take priority over checkpoint guidelines. I would not be surprised if a reviewing court found it reasonable for an officer to remove you from your vehicle and arrest you for resisting without violence. Courts around the country have found there is no more palatable excuse for minimizing a person’s constitutional rights than DUI detection. Remember, the only crime for which a person can be detained without any evidence is DUI. My conclusion is this: if you are going to try this technique of putting your license and registration against the window be prepared to either cooperate or get arrested. If it works for you, congratulations.

If you are facing DUI charges, contact me at Luke Law and put me to work for you. You can reach me at 904-637-2700 or nathan@lukelaw.com. Luke Law, LLC is located in Orange Park, Florida, and is conveniently located near Green Cove Springs, Middleburg, and most areas in northeast Florida. We are also available to travel to you to discuss your legal matters.

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