What Rights Do Drivers Have at Sobriety Checkpoints in New York?

Sobriety checkpoints in New York often result in numerous DWI arrests. In order to protect themselves, drivers should understand their rights at such stops.

People across the state of New York are often arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. In fact, the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services reports that there were more than 36,000 people arrested for misdemeanor driving while intoxicated, or DWI, in 2014. There were also over 5,000 felony DWI arrests. Sometimes, such arrests occur after drivers are stopped at sobriety checkpoints. In order to protect themselves and their futures, it behooves motorists to understand their rights at such stops.

Responding to questions

Typically, the first thing that law enforcement officers do at DWI checkpoints is approach stopped vehicles and ask the drivers questions. They use people's responses and behavior to help them ascertain whether drivers have been drinking. Consequently, answering these questions can be potentially incriminating.

Often, motorists answer law enforcement's questions because they feel that they are obligated to do so. However, people do not legally have to speak with the authorities at such stops. Rather, they may choose to keep their windows rolled up. Drivers may present law enforcement officers with a card stating that they wish to exercise their constitutional rights. This includes the ability to speak with an attorney before answering any questions and to continue on their way if they are not being placed under arrest.

Submitting to field sobriety tests

When law enforcement officers suspect that drivers who are stopped at sobriety checkpoints are under the influence, they may ask them to get out of their vehicles and perform field sobriety tests. People's performance on these evaluations may then be used as evidence of intoxication. Law enforcement officers may use this as grounds to arrest drivers or to investigate further.

Although law enforcement officers may fail to tell people when making their requests, field sobriety tests are voluntary. This means that drivers are not legally obligated to perform them. People should keep in mind, however, that performing field sobriety tests may prove that they are not intoxicated, and thus, should be allowed to go on their way.

Agreeing to chemical testing

Based on their performance on field sobriety tests and other factors, law enforcement officers may decide to place drivers under arrest at sobriety checkpoints. Then, they often ask them to submit to chemical testing, such as a breath or blood test. Under the state's implied consent law, motorists are considered to have given their consent to submit to such tests for the purpose of determining their blood alcohol content levels.

Even after their arrest, drivers may refuse chemical testing. Many who make this decision do so in order to avoid potentially incriminating themselves. However, they should understand that refusing chemical tests may result in an additional charge and penalties. According to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles, refusing a breath test may result in a $500 civil penalty and a driver's license suspension for up to one year.

Obtaining legal representation

The consequences of DWI charges in New York may be life-changing. Therefore, people who have been charged with drunk driving in the state may benefit from seeking legal counsel. An attorney may help them to understand their options and to build a solid defense against the charges they are facing. This may include questioning whether their rights were violated when they were stopped at a sobriety checkpoint.