The offense of driving under the influence attracts severe penalties in Texas. Usually, law enforcement officers are on the lookout for motorists who violate DWI laws. Upon reasonable suspicion of driving while intoxicated, you may face arrest and face charges. Consequently, you need to understand DWI checkpoints regulations to avoid facing severe legal repercussions.
Your attorney should offer legal counsel, guide you through DWI traffic laws, and represent you in court. At Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer, we provide high-quality legal services to clients facing DWI charges in Fort Worth, Texas. Additionally, we equip you with knowledge on what to do after being arrested at a DWI checkpoint.
Defining a DWI Checkpoint
Section 49.04 of the Texas Penal Code prohibits drunk driving. Traffic officers enforce the law and prevent DWI occurrences by checking motorists suspected of intoxication. Therefore, a DWI checkpoint is a specific location where officers set up a makeshift check-up station to identify and arrest intoxicated drivers.
Often, the term checkpoint is used interchangeably with police roadblocks, despite an existing difference in functionality. A police roadblock encompasses police officers blocking a specific point on the highway using sharp-pointed barricades. The goal of a roadblock is to slow down any approaching vehicles to check for statutory violations, including drunk driving.
On the other hand, a DWI checkpoint is a more mobile police operation, meaning that they can set it up anywhere. The primary goal for setting the checkpoints up is to scan motorists for intoxication and make arrests, if necessary, like in roadblock operations. Thus, the distinction arises from the more flexible nature of checkpoints, meaning that officers can easily ambush non-suspecting motorists and arrest them.
Common DWI Checkpoint Areas
Since the traffic officers are keen on preventing drunk driving, they choose strategic locations to conduct the checks. Usually, these locations are areas where recreational activities are expected, leading to high possibilities of drunk driving. Some common checkpoint locations in Texas are:
Bars and NightClubs
Typically, the sale of alcohol is the main business model for most bars and nightclubs. Subsequently, people who visit these facilities are more likely to drive when intoxicated, especially if they have not appointed a designated driver.
The traffic officers may therefore set a checkpoint on a road near the bars or clubs, primarily if most drivers are prone to use it when exiting. In doing so, they will apprehend multiple suspects who have to take alcohol tests to verify their level of intoxication.
Outside Festival Locations
Additionally, many residents are likely to attend events like concerts or movie festivals where drugs and alcohol are easily accessible. Since most attendees drive to the venues, law enforcement officers will reduce DWI incidents by checking different drivers' drug or alcohol levels.
Sports Arenas and Stadiums
Similarly, sports events attract large crowds, giving the alcohol and drug industry a boost in sales. Hence, officers are also likely to impose DWI checks outside the arenas as a precautionary measure to prevent DWI related accidents.
The Legality of DWI Checkpoints in Texas
Based on the mode of operation that officers use in checkpoints, the state of Texas does not recognize their validity. The rationale behind the prohibition of these checkpoints is that they violate citizens' constitutional rights.
Additionally, the state did not have proper systems in place to validate DWI checkpoints. Due to this, a 1991 supreme court decision ruled the DWI checkpoints as unlawful, creating a legal disparity between operating and ceasing the checkpoints.
Today, the law still prevails, making DWI roadblocks and checkpoints illegal in Texas. However, police still run the operations and will face no retribution, provided they follow the various guidelines governing the procedures.
Requirements for DWI Checkpoint Operations
As mentioned, the law does not provide for checkpoints, because they contravene a citizen's constitutional rights. However, if law enforcement officers satisfy the various requirements that aim to reduce unlawful practices, they may arrange for the checkpoint operations.
Upon facing a mandatory BAC test or arrest at a checkpoint, you may prepare defenses based on the officers' non-compliance with the set regulations. As a result, you want to understand these regulations as they may save you from facing criminal penalties for a DWI. The guiding regulations require that:
Officers Should Announce a Checkpoint Location In Advance
The most important requirement to meet is making a publication to announce the setting up of a DWI checkpoint in advance. While making the announcement, the officers in charge should also include the exact location and time the checkpoint will run operations.
Usually, the announcement should be accessible to ensure that the information reaches as many citizens as possible. For example, the checkpoint announcements can be found in daily newspapers, or on police websites. Moreover, the law enforcement department can liaise with media houses to make announcements on television or radio.
The requirement to inform citizens of scheduled checkpoint operations upholds their rights to information. Most arrests and issuance of penalties were held as unlawful, as police operated on a random schedule that many interpreted as entrapment.
With the publication of upcoming checkpoint dates, any person facing subsequent arrest cannot rely on the defense of lack of knowledge. Therefore, we recommend checking the available publication sites in advance to avoid inconveniences and possible arrest.
The Checkpoints Should Uphold Safety Precautions
Further, traffic officers are responsible for upholding safety when conducting DWI checks, especially when operating on busy highways. Since the checkpoints require drivers to slow down, there should be an organized system that directs vehicles into the required lanes to ease congestion.
Moreover, the checkpoints should not lead drivers to make abrupt u-turns while on the road, as they may cause unforeseen collisions. Thus, the officers should set up at positions that do not interfere with junctions or intersections, as they are high-risk zones on the road.
On top of that, the checkpoints should be visible from a reasonable distance to alert drivers of the need to slow down. Hence, officers can have well-lit banners or warning signs informing oncoming motorists of the operation. Also, police vehicles may have their lights on to indicate an ongoing operation that requires drivers to exercise caution.
The Law Enforcement Officers at Checkpoints Should be in Uniforms
Performing DWI checkpoints as an undercover operation is unlawful, as it incorporates surprise tactics that violate your constitutional rights. Thus, law enforcement officers should be in their respective uniforms to assure citizens of facing a regulated exercise.
You can also ask your DWI defense lawyer to verify whether the officers at the checkpoints belong to the correct department. For example, a crime and gang operations unit officer should not have the mandate to conduct DWI checks, as these functions fall within the traffic law enforcement department.
If you are likely to face arrest, you should also note that only the supervising officer should authorize the apprehension. Mostly, junior officers may abuse their duties and arrest you without authorization, leading to improper administrative processes. Hence, your defense lawyer can help you retrace your case facts to determine whether you faced a fair arrest.
The Traffic Police Should Form Probable Cause to Stop You
Moreover, traffic officers should conduct a systematic process when stopping motorists at checkpoints. Usually, an officer should form probable cause before slowing you down, based on justifiable reasons that indicate driving when drunk.
Moreover, the officers should provide credible and clear facts that they identified before stopping you. In promoting articulating information to stop a driver, the police will uphold your constitutional rights. The specific rights in interest that protect you by imposing a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
Traffic officers mostly check for several fault elements after they stop you in designated checkpoints. Learning of these common faults will help you avoid a police examination, especially because they involve non-DWI related factors. They include:
- Having a burnt or broken tail lights
- Exceeding the set speed limit
- Driving your vehicle with broken or burnt-out headlights
- Running a red light or failing to comply at a stop sign.
- Having a cracked windscreen
You want to remember that having any of these faults will inevitably cause the DWI officers to stop you. The police stop may arise despite an absent correlation between the listed faults and the offense of driving under the influence. Consequently, if you were intoxicated at the time of stopping, you will have high chances of facing arrest and subsequent hearings.
After the officers form probable cause to stop you, they continue searching for additional evidence of possible intoxication. Mostly, they rely on physical signs to infer your alcohol or drug-induced impairment. Some common characteristics they will look for are:
- A pungent alcohol smell in your car
- Your physical conduct/ demeanor, including how you answer questions
- The color of your eyes
- Any signs of slurred speech
Another important point to note is that when you avoid going through a checkpoint by making a U-turn or using an exit lane, the police can form probable cause for arrest. Naturally, fleeing the checkpoint zone attracts suspicion, as you are likely to be evading legal repercussions from drunk driving.
Sometimes, the traffic officers may initiate a car chase to apprehend you. Alternatively, they may note your registration number and follow up with you at a later date. However, this option is not effective enough, as your suspected BAC levels will have reduced. Consequently, the officers are likely to lack sufficient proof of your DWI violation.
The Implied Consent Law Affecting DWI Testing
As discussed, section 49.04 of the Texas Penal Code prohibits intoxicated drivers from operating their vehicles, especially on public roads and highways. The specific restriction in public areas serves to prevent the possibility of catastrophic accidents from arising because of impaired driving.
Further, section 49.01 provides the legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit that all drivers should observe. It is measured in a percentage, based on the alcohol levels in your bloodstream. The statutory provision gives 0.08% as the limit, meaning that any level above this percentage will be intoxication per se. As a result, the officers have justified cause for arrest for any BAC reading above the 0.08% mark.
Despite this, you may nevertheless face arrest with a BAC level within or below 0.08%, as you are still intoxicated. Nonetheless, the most appropriate step for officers to follow is subjecting you to a BAC test that registers accurate results.
You need to note that in Texas, you will have given the traffic officers implied consent to test you by driving on the road, under section 724.11 of the Texas Transparent Code. Consequently, you are expected to comply as a driver using the highway, although you may still resist taking the tests.
However, you should also note that some checkpoints are "no-refusal", so you must accompany an officer to the station for a chemical blood test. In this case, you will face arrest and detention until the results are ready, indicating your BAC levels.
The Consequences of Refusing to Take a BAC Test
Based on the implied consent law, you will need to take a BAC test, or risk facing several negative outcomes. Normally, any motorist who refuses to take the test risks facing a license suspension after an administrative deliberation. This means that you will lose your driving privileges for a specific period to be determined by the presiding administrative officer.
Also, a refusal to comply with the testing will provide additional evidence for the prosecutor to use against you in court. Sometimes, the officers will not retrieve reliable data to conclude that you were intoxicated per se. Therefore, your refusal to take the BAC test can be the primary point of reference in presenting a case against you, based on the prosecutor’s reasonable suspicion.
Nevertheless, your attorney will step in to present defenses on your behalf, primarily if you have valid reasons for refusing the test. Meeting with your lawyer before the court proceedings begin is ideal, as you will have time to plan on the best arguments to counter the prosecutor.
What To Do When Stopped At a DWI Checkpoint
When you have to face traffic officers at a checkpoint, you want to know exactly what to do. The information will help you remain calm and avoid increasing suspicion to yourself. As a result, observing the following guidelines at a checkpoint may lead to police releasing you, especially if they lack probable cause to impose a DUI test.
Remain Calm and Silent
Since you have the right to remain silent when stopped by a police officer, we recommend upholding it. You should note that the prosecutor may refer to any statements you made at the checkpoint as evidence of a DWI violation. For example, if you admit to being drunk but not too impaired to drive, you will have already admitted to a fault.
Your right to remain silent also extends to failing to reply to the officer's questions if possible. For example, the officer may ask you an indirectly incriminating question like how many bottles of beer you had. In this case, you do not have to answer, as doing so would indicate a violation.
Moreover, we suggest that you remain calm at the checkpoint, despite the aggravating and inconvenient nature of the stop. When you lose your temper, you are likely to disrespect the officers, leading to a more aggressive law enforcement procedure.
Additionally, being rude or unruly can give the officers sufficient probable cause to arrest you. Typically, their basis would be high intoxication levels that cause you to behave in an unruly manner, often associated with als]cohol intake. However, sometimes they may include reasons like disrupting peace as the main reason for the arrest, primarily if you show signs of violence.
Despite the cause of arrest, you can avoid the subsequent penalties by remaining calm and upholding respect to the traffic officers. Eventually, you may even leave the checkpoint without subjection to tests or arrest based on your general demeanor.
Decline Taking Field Sobriety Tests
Usually, field sobriety tests serve as complementary sources of proof when police suspect you of being brain drunk. However, the tests are not compulsory and should therefore not be imposed on you.
Additionally, your failure to undertake the tests should not result in subsequent penalties when your matter goes to trial. This is because field sobriety tests are often subjective, based on people's varying abilities to perform physical activities when drunk.
For example, one person may have a BAC reading of over 0.08% yet walk in a straight line. On the other hand, a slightly intoxicated person with a BAC below the limit may find it difficult to perform the same test. Consequently, traffic police officers who base their arrests on field sobriety results will have imposed unfair procedures that can be challenged in court.
Provide Your License and Registration Upon Request
Presenting your license and registration cards at a checkpoint is also necessary, as it verifies your driving qualifications. Most officers will ask for these documents immediately after stopping you as a procedural step, so you should have them readily available.
You can also provide additional information, including the city you obtained it from within Texas. Sometimes, the traffic police may ask you follow up questions aimed at verifying the validity of your documents.
Hence, you want to provide the information as required, while maintaining a calm tone. If the officer is satisfied with the details, he/she may release you, especially if you do not portray any signs of intoxication.
Respectfully Decline Any Car Searches
Sometimes, traffic officers may be adamant in finding a DWI fault, despite displaying a regular physical demeanor and observing all traffic regulations. As a result, they may request to perform a car search in the quest for any incriminating evidence.
Often, the officers insist on the car searches when they are sure that you are intoxicated, yet lack credible evidence to form probable cause. Thus, their last resort is imposing an unlawful search and seizure that is likely to put you in trouble.
Therefore, we advise you to decline the request for a car search, as it could cause unforeseen consequences with DWI violations. For example, if an officer finds an empty liquor bottle in the car, he/she will have probable cause to impose a BAC test. The outcome may lead to your apprehension, especially if you have exceeded the 0.08% limit.
Finally, if you observed all these guidelines but still faced arrest, you want to contact your defense lawyer as soon as possible. With the attorney's help, you can depict whether the officers engaged in any misconduct like forging BAC results or performing unlawful searches. Eventually, your lawyer will prepare persuasive and strategic arguments to help you evade harsh DWI penalties.
Contact a DWI Defense Lawyer Near Me
Texas has different laws that make DWI checkpoints unlawful, yet officers still conduct operations. From the complicated nature of legal directives, you may find it difficult to follow up after you or a loved one faces arrest. Therefore, we recommend working with an experienced DWI defense attorney who understands the different laws and procedures to follow in securing your release.
At Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer, you work with a team of skilled and well-experienced lawyers. Our goal is to provide high-quality DWI defense services to anyone facing charges in Fort Worth, Texas. With our help, you will experience an easier legal process that increases your chances of a successful case outcome. If you or a loved one needs DWI defense services, give us a call at 817-470-2128.