Do You Have to Talk to the Police at a DUI Checkpoint?
A man in Chiefland, Florida posted a video to YouTube showing how he pulled through a DUI checkpoint without ever rolling down his car window or speaking to the police. His solution? Attach a ziplock bag to the outside of his car that had his “Fair DUI” statement inside it, along with his license, insurance information and vehicle registration. Here’s the video:
The police handled the situation pretty smoothly and looked, at least to me, a little bemused by the whole thing. The driver, Jeff Gray, has a YouTube channel called “Honor Your Oath” where he encourages people to “Stay cool, Be polite, Flex Your Rights, and Always Film The Police.” Gray also says his goal is to “teach citizens that our rights do still exist, and to show how best to assert those rights.” Gray also points out that he is not an attorney.
Over a million people have watched the video. Two Sheriffs in Florida gave statements about what happened, which provoked this not-so-well-thought-out article.
Can You Really Do That?
So if Jeff Gray was able to cruise through a DUI checkpoint without ever rolling down his window or saying a word to the police, does that mean everyone can legally do that?
Let’s get some things straight first.
One, please don’t take video of something working once on YouTube as evidence that it will always work. That’s a twist on the old logical fallacy known in Latin as “argumentum ad traditio” – the appeal to tradition, although I guess we could update it as the “argumentum ad YouTubio” – the Appeal to YouTube.
Second, don’t take the fact that the police did nothing as evidence or confirmation that they couldn’t do anything. We’ll talk about this more below, but please understand that the police make mistakes. They’re not robots. Just because they didn’t stop Gray, or order him to roll down his window, get out of the car, etc., doesn’t mean that they couldn’t have. We’ll talk about the law on this in a moment, but as a matter of common sense don’t get these ideas confused.
What Does the Law Really Say about DUI checkpoints?
Back in 1990 the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case called Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Spitz. The question in that case was whether states could use DUI checkpoints and briefly examine drivers for signs of intoxication without violating the constitution. The Court weighed the interests of the state in keeping drunk drivers off of the road against the interests of the drivers in not being detained. The Court sided with the state, and held that DUI checkpoints are not unconstitutional.
So what does that actually mean? That means that states are allowed to operate DUI checkpoints to check drivers for signs of intoxication. This would, naturally, include stopping drivers and interacting with them to see if they had glassy eyes, slurred speech, and/or smelled like alcohol.
But there are restrictions. If they’re not running a DUI checkpoint, the police have to have a reason to pull your car over. This can be for any traffic violation, moving (like speeding) to non-moving (having an expired license plate). And, until the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Heien v. North Carolina, the police had to had to be legally about their legal reason for initiating a traffic stop. Not anymore.
When not rolling down your window doesn’t work…
If you decide to try Mr. Gray’s trick for avoiding a DUI checkpoint be aware the police have every right to insist that you speak with them. Although it worked for him, it probably won’t work for you. Contact Hillsborough Defense if you need help with your DUI stop.