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Defending an Arrest from a DUI Enforcement Checkpoint

Defending an Arrest from a DUI Enforcement Checkpoint

We consider the Supreme Court’s granting of a right for local police to create license checkpoints to amount to an exception to the fourth amendment. Regardless of our views (and the views of many of our clients), police checkpoints have been determined legal. As we are now into the holiday season, we expect to see more checkpoints setup all around South Carolina.

At a checkpoint officers can check to see your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and registration. They can also attempt to locate impaired drivers. Checkpoints for general crime control are not permitted. In order to justify any DUI arrest the defendant has the right to demand that the police establish that the checkpoint was conducted in strict compliance with the applicable legal standards.

Whenever we undertake representation of a client arrested at a checkpoint there are certain additional steps we undertake. One thing we do in every checkpoint case is to file a specific discovery motion with the court, so that the police will turn over the documentation and records to prove that the checkpoint was legally established.

Police officers aren’t allowed to just setup checkpoints anytime and anywhere they wish. Instead, they must comply with the following requirements:

What is the reason for this checkpoint? There must be some specific purpose for setting up a checkpoint in a particular location. General crime control is not allowed, and there should be data showing a need to screen vehicles going through a certain road.

Was the checkpoint announced? Checkpoints aren’t allowed to be scheduled without advance notice to the public. This is usually done by sending a press release to the local media.

Was the decision to establish the checkpoint made by a high-level officer? Road officers aren’t allowed to come up with checkpoints on their own. Instead it takes a formal decision making process from higher-ups at the police station, and written documentation as to how the checkpoint will be conducted.

When the prosecutor is unable or unwilling to provide evidence that the police has complied with these requirements we can move for a dismissal of the DUI on the grounds that the checkpoint was conducted unlawfully.

In addition to screening for compliance with checkpoint procedures, we also screen for legal & evidentiary defenses to the underlying DUI charge. DUI charges can be defending on both of these fronts. Did the police follow the required procedures for conducting the investigation and making the arrest? What circumstances exist to challenge the officer’s assertion of impairment?

Just like we submit discovery motions to obtain information about the checkpoint procedures, we also request materials to allow us to evaluate these other portions of the case. For most cases, this will include at a minimum:

  • The roadside video (beginning with the activation of the officer’s blue lights).
  • Narrative incident report.
  • Scoring sheet from any field sobriety tests (usually consisting of three tests: the HGN “eye” test, the walk and turn, and the one-leg stand.
  • The report from any breathalyzer test.
  • The video from the breathalyzer room.

When we receive these materials they will be evaluated from beginning to end by two lawyers in our office. Every case is evaluated by attorney James Snell. We use a second lawyer to evaluate the case to ensure that nothing is overlooked.

After our lawyers evaluate the case we schedule an appointment with our client. During this appointment we will review with them the circumstances of their case, including the defenses that we see and the possible strategies that can be employed. This meeting is conducted before any court date, so that our client will be in the best position to determine how they would like their case to proceed. The rule in our office is that if our client’s case is not dismissed, or reduced to their satisfaction, we promise to be ready, willing, and able to fully contest the case in court.


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