Here’s what you need to know if you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint, and why Huntsville does them

In an effort to cut down on drunk driving and save lives, officers perform several DUI checkpoints throughout the year.

Posted: Feb 17, 2020 9:01 PM
Updated: Feb 18, 2020 11:36 PM

In an effort to cut down on drunk driving and save lives, officers perform several DUI checkpoints throughout the year.

WAAY 31 spoke with a supervisor with the DUI task force to learn more about their role, and a local attorney to find out your rights.

"Nothing prepares you for going to knock on someone's door at 2 in the morning and changing that family's life forever. Let them know the loved one is not coming home," said Sgt. Michael Nelson, a DUI task force supervisor.

That's one reason Nelson is on patrol for drunk drivers. He is one of eight officers who make up Huntsville's DUI task force.

"To protect themselves from themselves and protect them from hurting other people if they are impaired," he said.

One way officers do that is with checkpoints. They will ask for your drivers license, proof of insurance and registration for your vehicle.

"We are checking for those three things to see if there is any clues of impairment that we are seeing that leads us to pull you off the side of the road and run you through those field sobriety tests," said Nelson.

What else do you need to know if you're stopped at a checkpoint? WAAY 31 took that question to DUI defense attorney George Flowers. He has been practicing law for about 20 years.

"A person always has a right to refuse anything that they don't want to do, you are never compelled to do anything," said Flowers.

Alabama is an implied consent state. That means any person who operates a vehicle within the state is deemed to have consented to a blood, breath, or urine test to measure blood alcohol content. However, all field sobriety tests are voluntary. You are not under any legal obligation to submit to any field sobriety tests.

"There is no criminal penalties, or civil penalties for refusing the roadside tests," said Flowers.

However, Flowers warns, "When a person refuses the roadside test, an officer is typically going to make his judgement call there and when a person refuses, they are probably going to presume everything against the person at that point."

In most cases, you can refuse the Breathalyzer as a passenger.

Flowers told WAAY 31 police shouldn't even ask.

DUI laws only apply to the driver.

If an officer asks to search your car, you can refuse.

Police never need your consent and won't ask if they have a legal ground to perform their search.

Refusal to allow a search is not probable cause and is not a reason for you to be detained.

"We are not trying to infringe on anyone's rights, we are not going to unlawfully search someones vehicle," said Sgt. Nelson.

If there is reason to suspect you are armed and dangerous, the officer can pat you down, or in other words, frisk you. Officers must confine frisks to the suspect's outer clothing. Alabama is an open carry state but it's illegal in a vehicle without a concealed carry license.

Nelson said drivers take extreme measures to cover up they're drinking.

"Sometimes people will try to mask the odor that they are omitting such as popping a piece of gum, doing some Listerine, maybe smoking two or three cigarettes at one time just to get the nicotine and smoke odor in the car to cover the alcohol smell or anything else that's going on, to try and defer out attention to something else," said Nelson.

Nelson would rather make an arrest than allow a suspected drunk driver to continue on their way and possibly take a life. He told WAAY 31 throughout his career he has notified 48 families their loved ones where killed by a drunk driver. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 268 drunk-driving deaths in Alabama in 2017.

Alabama ranks 5th in the nation for drunk driving related deaths.

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