Pennsylvania DUI Checkpoint – Do I Need to Stop and Provide Info?

A DUI checkpoint was recently staged in the Penns Valley area of Centre County. With the police stopping 77 vehicles but only making one DUI arrest and issuing two traffic citations, I would say that the checkpoint was not a success. Obviously, as a resident on this area, I am not complaining about a lack of drunk drivers being on the roadway. However, DUI checkpoints are not a cheap economic endeavor as they often require many police officers, and such  warrantless stops of vehicles are an inconvenience to society.

Legality of DUI Checkpoints in Pennsylvania

Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have ruled that DUI checkpoints are permissible. In a normal situation, a Pennsylvania police officer is not permitted to stop or detain a motorist unless the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the driver has committed a criminal offense or probable cause to believe that the driver committed a non-investigable traffic offense, like speeding or a stop sign violation. Obviously, a checkpoint allows the police to stop a driver and conduct a limited investigation without having any suspicion to believe that the driver did anything wrong. At a checkpoint, the police are permitted to briefly detain a person and require the person to provide a license, proof of insurance, and valid registration.

DUI Investigation & Filing of Charges

During the stop at the DUI checkpoint, if the driver’s paperwork is valid and the officer does not observe any violations, the driver is released and sent on his way. Obviously, at a DUI checkpoint, the officers are focused on detecting the odor of alcohol. If they smell alcohol emanating from the vehicle, the police generally have the driver pull to the side of the road and exit the vehicle. The police want to talk to the person to see if the alcohol is coming from the driver’s breath. While interacting with the driver, the officer also looks for general signs of intoxication, such as bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and swaying or difficulty standing. If the officer does not detect any signs of intoxication, the driver is released and sent on his or her way. If the officer notices signs of intoxication, the officer then normally requests that the driver submit to Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs), which are the One-Legged Stand, Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, and Walk-and-Turn tests. Many officers also administer a portable or preliminary breath test, called a PBT. In Pennsylvania, a person does not need to submit to field sobriety tests. However, if the person does perform the sobriety tests and fails to complete them to the officer’s satisfaction, the person is arrested and then taken for a more precise alcohol test.

In most Central Pennsylvania counties like Centre, Clinton, Huntingdon, and Blair, a DUI suspect is transported to the local hospital for a blood withdrawal. The blood is then sent to the Pennsylvania State Police lab in Harrisburg for testing. The officer receives the blood alcohol test results approximately 2 to 3 weeks later. At that point, if the alcohol level was above the legal limit, the officer files the charges with a district judge to start the prosecution of the drunk driving offense. The legal limit for adults in Pennsylvania is .08%, but for minors, meaning people under the age of 21, the legal limit is .02%. For more info about DUI charges in Pennsylvania from this State College drunk driving attorney, check out this link.