At a typical sobriety checkpoint trying to identify drivers under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, motorists are forced to stop their vehicle, roll down their window, and usually provide certain documentation to an officer. The documentation generally includes a valid driver’s license, proof of registration and proof of financial responsibility (liability insurance). While the driver is gathering these documents, the officer may also ask questions about what the driver may or may not have been doing before reaching the checkpoint. The purpose of these questions is to assist the officer in identifying those driving while intoxicated (DWI).
Florida lawyer Warren Redlich disagrees with motorists being forced to roll down their window and verbally communicate with an officer at a sobriety checkpoint. In order to avoid
forced communication with an officer at a checkpoint, Mr. Redlich has developed state specific signs or placards intended to replace the responsibility of the motorist to roll the window down and answer questions. Some of the words in bold on these signs include “I remain silent,” “No Searches,” and “I want my lawyer.” Mr. Redlich’s opinion is that a motorist should not be forced to answer questions at a checkpoint.
Instead, Mr. Redlich believes it is sufficient to simply place the previously mentioned sign against the car window where it can easily be read. Anticipating being asked for one’s driver’s license, registration and insurance proof, Mr. Redlich suggests placing these items in a plastic bag and hang it from the driver’s window.
Peter Gerstenzang, a lawyer practicing in New York, thinks that using these signs “…[I]s really dumb.” See: http://news10.com/2015/02/11/fla-lawyer-dwi-checkpoint-signs-spark-controversy/. He suggests if the motorist has nothing to hide then the motorist has no reason to use the sign at a sobriety checkpoint.
Steven Oberman, a lawyer practicing in Tennessee, echoes the thoughts of his colleague, Mr. Gerstenzang. If a motorist finds him/herself at a checkpoint (a common occurrence throughout Tennessee), the motorist should simply provide any requested documentation.
If the officer asks about conduct that may incriminate the driver or if the motorist is uncomfortable answering a question, he/she should politely decline to answer the question. The motorist should advise the officer that they feel they are being accused of a crime they didn’t commit and advise the officer that they prefer that any personal questions only be answered in the presence of their lawyer. The motorist should then ask if they are free to leave (this may later assist the motorist in defending any charge that may be brought against the motorist).
Following the advice of Mr. Redlich would, in the opinion of this author, only make it more likely that the investigating officer would find a reason to arrest the driver for DUI, a related driving offense, or perhaps even for “Obstruction of Law Enforcement” as prohibited by Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-16-602. As with other matters of importance, it is suggested to use your common sense rather than trying to take the advice of someone unfamiliar with the facts of your specific situation. It is always best to rely on the legal advice of a lawyer licensed in your state and familiar with the laws applicable to your case.
About the Author: Steven Oberman has been licensed in Tennessee since 1980, and successfully defended over 2,000 DUI defendants. Among the many honors bestowed upon him, Steve served as Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. and currently serves as chair of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers DUI Committee. Steve was the first lawyer in Tennessee to be certified as a DUI Defense Specialist by the National College for DUI Defense.
He is the author of DUI: The Crime & Consequences in Tennessee, updated annually since 1991 (Thomson-West), and co-author with Lawrence Taylor of the national treatise, Drunk Driving Defense, 7th edition (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen). Steve has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee Law School since 1993 and has received a number of prestigious awards for his faculty contributions. He is a popular international speaker, having spoken at legal seminars in 23 states, the District of Columbia and three foreign countries.
You may contact Steve through his website at www.tndui.com or by telephone at (865) 249-7200.