Sobriety checkpoints in Virginia: What should drivers know?

Understanding what rights they have at Virginia sobriety checkpoints may be essential to helping drivers avoid unnecessary DUI arrests.

Provided they are conducted in accordance with a neutral plan of action, as opposed to the arbitrary discretion of law enforcement officers, sobriety checkpoints are permitted in the state of Virginia. If they are unprepared when coming upon such stops, motorists may find themselves unnecessarily delayed and, in some cases, charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Therefore, it may benefit people to understand their rights while stopped at drunk driving roadblocks.

Responding to questioning

Often, law enforcement officers begin their assessments at DUI checkpoints by approaching and interviewing the drivers of the stopped vehicles. Feeling compelled to respond, many people in these situations choose to roll their windows down and speak with the authorities. Instead, however, they may decide to present law enforcement with a card indicating their desire to enact their constitutional rights. This includes the right not to answer any questions until they have sought legal counsel.

Performing roadside tests

When the authorities suspect drivers are inebriated, they often ask them to step out of their vehicles and perform a series of roadside tests. These field sobriety assessments include the walk-and-turn, horizontal gaze nystagmus and one-leg stand. Although law enforcement officers may not inform people when asking them to submit to these tests, they are not required to submit to them. While drivers may choose to decline performing field sobriety tests, they should keep in mind that their performance could serve as proof to the authorities that they are not intoxicated and should be allowed to move along.

Submitting to chemical testing

Under the state's implied consent law, those who choose to drive in Virginia forfeit their right to decline chemical testing. Therefore, they are required to submit to breath tests, blood tests or both once they are arrested. Should they refuse, motorists may be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor, on top of their DUI charge, and face additional penalties. These may include a driver's license suspension for one or three years, depending on their prior criminal record. Further, those charged with refusing a breath test do not qualify for restricted license.

Working with a legal representative

Whether the result of a sobriety checkpoint or an everyday traffic stop, DUI arrests may have lasting implications for people in Virginia and elsewhere. In addition to facing the potential criminal penalties, having a drunk driving conviction on their records may affect motorists' future employment opportunities. Therefore, it may benefit those who have been charged with driving under the influence to obtain legal counsel. An attorney may explain their options and help them determine the best course of action given their situations, as well as look out for their interests throughout the legal process.