Most people love a good party and some holidays seem tailor-made for one – especially those in the summer. Sun and liquor can go hand-in-hand and law enforcement knows it. Although DUI and sobriety checkpoints pop up all year long in Oklahoma, police are particularly vigilant at times and in those places that are most likely to yield results and take impaired drivers off the roads. Think bar and club districts in the wee hours of the morning – and summer days when most people are off work and can dedicate themselves to a good time.
If you do find yourself charged with an Oklahoma DUI crime, contact our team of attorneys for help today.
The Officers Don’t Want to Just Say Hi
The police haven’t taken up position at a DUI checkpoint because they want to wish you a happy Memorial Day or Fourth of July. The idea behind checkpoints is that if you know they’re there, you won’t risk drinking and driving – you’ll find another way home. They’re a deterrent. But if you drink anyway, they’re designed to apprehend you and put you in jail.
Under both Oklahoma and federal law, this arrangement is perfectly legal. It doesn’t violate your Fourth Amendment rights – that’s the amendment that prohibits illegal search and seizure. In 1990, the United States Supreme Court decided that collecting intoxicated drivers off the streets is of paramount importance and the effort justifies checkpoints. Oklahoma agreed with this interpretation in a landmark decision in 1994. Suffice it to say, DUI checkpoints are here to stay.
Be On Your Best Behavior
Unless you have nerves of steel, the checkpoint encounter is probably not going to be your finest hour. This holds true whether you’ve had one drink, a few, or no alcoholic beverages at all. It’s human nature to get rattled when a police officer is standing at your driver’s side window, asking you questions and maybe even shining a flashlight in your face. It’s OK and perfectly understandable if you’re rattled. It’s not OK to let it show. Even if you have no reason whatsoever to appear guilty, nervous speech, darting eyes and wringing hands will imply that you do. So take a deep breath as the officer approaches your vehicle, then do all you can to appear calm.
You don’t have to answer every question posed to you. In fact, the more questions you do answer, the more minefields you create for yourself, potential holes in the ground that you might fall through. This is true even if you swore off alcohol six years ago and the only thing in your system is your grandmother’s lemonade. You don’t have to be intoxicated to convince law enforcement that you are and to take things one step further. If you have had something to drink, you might think you’re enunciating perfectly, but the more you speak, the more opportunity you give your tongue to trip up. And that old line you’ve heard in movies a thousand times is true – anything you say can be held against you in a court of law.
So don’t say it. You’re within your rights to decline to answer certain questions – such as where you’ve spent the last several hours – but do so calmly and politely.
The Field Sobriety Test
Let’s assume for the moment that you’ve gotten rattled, you’ve taken a misstep, and the police officer hasn’t waived you on through the checkpoint. What’s next?
He’ll ask you to pull your car over to the side of the road. You’ll probably be asked to take a field sobriety test. You’ve seen this on TV or maybe you’ve glimpsed some unfortunate soul trying to master it on the side of the road. Put one foot in front of the other, heel to toe. Stand balanced on one foot with the other held off the ground. It may sound easy enough, but these tests are designed for failure. They appear simple on the surface, but they’re hard. The more you think about what you’re doing and the more rattled you are, the worse you’ll probably do. Physical impairments can get in the way, too, and the police may not ask you ahead of time if you suffer from any. I know of one poor woman who had just come off full hip replacement surgery a few weeks before. She had no alcohol in her system but she couldn’t put one foot in front of the other, heel to toe.
You can decline to take a field sobriety test – this is perfectly legal. But if you do, it’s a safe guess that the officer will next ask you to take a breath test. And you can’t decline this in Oklahoma – at least not without some significant ramifications. Refusal means automatic suspension of your driver’s license, and your refusal can later be used against you in court.
You’re Not a Sitting Duck
Knowing you’re facing all this as you approach an Oklahoma DUI checkpoint, you might be tempted to turn around and go the other way whether you’ve had anything to drink or not. The fact is, you’re perfectly within your rights to do this. Courts have ruled that turning around and taking an alternate route home does not give officers probable cause to stop you for DUI.
About That Taillight…If you can’t turn around or down a side street, there’s something else you should keep in mind. DUI checkpoints are not just about intoxicated drivers – the police aren’t limited to citing you for driving under the influence. If your registration is a tad out of date, you can be ticketed. If your taillight is out, ditto. You can be cited for unrelated violations after you’re stopped.
Ideally, you won’t come across an Oklahoma DUI checkpoint on your way home from a holiday party. But if you do and if things go wrong, don’t try to handle the situation on your own. An attorney experienced in this area of the law can make all the difference between a DUI on your record, sky-high insurance rates, and other assorted nightmares. Law enforcement is subject to checkpoint guidelines, and an experienced attorney can determine whether any of these were violated. Falsely positive breath tests are not unheard of.
If you need help defending yourself against Oklahoma DUI charges, call us today at (405) 703-4567.