As summer draws to a close, many friends and families will get together this Labor Day to celebrate. But like many holidays, this one brings an increase in impaired driving, and local law enforcement agencies respond appropriately. Be prepared to encounter DUI checkpoints and other enforcement efforts throughout the Knoxville area. If you or a loved one is charged with DUI, call Barnes Law at 865-805-5703 as soon as possible. We fight hard to protect the legal rights of defendants charged with all impaired driving offenses.
Your Legal Rights at a DUI Checkpoint
Thanks to popular television programs, most Americans are familiar with their Miranda Rights. The Miranda warning advises you that you have the right to remain silent because any statements you make could be used as evidence against you. (This warning comes from your Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.) The Miranda Warnings also advise suspects of their right to an attorney (from the Sixth Amendment right to counsel), and the fact that an attorney will be appointed if they cannot afford one. This last right was established by the Supreme Court in the 1963 case of Gideon v. Wainwright.
But how do these rights work at a DUI checkpoint, or during a routine traffic stop? The Miranda Warnings are only required to be given when a suspect is under arrest. Because of this, you might not hear the Miranda Warnings when you are first pulled over, but the legal protections still apply. This is why it is so important to understand your legal rights, and not wait for an officer to tell you what rights you do or do not have.
The right to remain silent is one of the most important protections you can invoke during a DUI stop. At any traffic stop, you are required to answer questions about your identity (and provide documentation such as a driver’s license or proof of insurance). But you are not required to answer further questions that could be potentially incriminating. Many officers will ask questions about where you have been, where you are headed, and whether you have had anything to drink. These questions seem innocuous, but they can be used against you. They can provide probable cause for an arrest or search warrant. They can also be used by the prosecutor at trial. (Though they are usually hearsay, there is an important rule that allows hearsay to be admitted at trial if the statement was made by one of the parties to the case.) These effects can be devastating to your case. They severely limit your attorney’s ability to defend you from DUI charges.
So what should you say at a DUI checkpoint? Here are some basic rules to remember:
- Officers can ask for identification. Give them your name, and provide your license, registration, or proof of insurance if it requested.
- Politely decline to answer questions about whether you have been drinking. Simply state that you intend to cooperate, but that there are certain questions you cannot answer without speaking with an attorney.
- Be careful not to become confrontational with the officer. Law enforcement officers do not like to have their authority challenged, and many will take it as a personal affront if you do not answer their questions. This has led to many ugly confrontations that have made national news over the past few years. Make it clear that you intend to cooperate as much as you are able.
Another important constitutional protection that comes up at DUI checkpoints is the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. This protection is created by the Fourth Amendment. It requires officers to have a warrant in order to search your home or vehicle or to seize evidence found there. At a DUI checkpoint, this means that officers cannot test your blood or breath without a warrant. It also means that they cannot search your vehicle without a warrant. There are, however, certain exceptions to the warrant requirement, and it is important to understand them:
- Exigent circumstances: Police can search without a warrant if there are circumstances that justify an immediate search without waiting for a warrant. For example: if an officer stopped a vehicle, then heard pounding from the trunk, this would be an exigent circumstance. The officer could lawfully search the trunk without a warrant due to the immediate danger presented by the situation.
- Search incident to arrest: If there is already probable cause for an arrest, then an officer may conduct a search of the person. This is allowed to ensure the safety of the officer and to prevent the suspect from destroying evidence. Notice that there must already be probable cause for the arrest before this search can be lawfully conducted.
- Consent: Police can search a home or vehicle without a warrant if the owner consents to the search. This is why vehicles and luggage can be searched at an airport without warrants: travelers consent to these searches simply by using the airport facilities. At a DUI checkpoint, you might be asked to consent to a search of your blood, breath, or vehicle. You have the right to refuse, but be aware that refusal can carry other consequences.
Tennessee’s Implied Consent Law
Like all other states, Tennessee has adopted statutes related to consent for DUI testing. Section 55-10-406 of the Tennessee Code states that anyone who drives on the roads of Tennessee is deemed to have given consent to have his or her blood tested for the presence of drugs, alcohol, or both. Refusal to submit to the tests results in your driver’s license being suspended. However: the officer must have reasonable grounds to believe the person was driving while under the influence of alcohol, a drug, any other intoxicant, or any combination of these three. If the officer cannot state his or her “reasonable grounds,” your license will not be suspended. You must also be advised of the consequences of refusing to submit to the test. If not, your license cannot be suspended.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with a Knoxville DUI Defense Attorney
The consequences of a drunk driving conviction can follow a defendant for many years after the case is over. It is important to have the advice of an experienced DUI attorney who knows how to defend impaired driving charges. At Barnes Law, our experienced Knoxville DUI attorneys know how to defend against DUI charges effectively and resolve criminal matters as favorably as possible. Call 865-805-5703 or contact us online today to schedule your free consultation.