As summer begins, motorists can expect to see an uptick in sobriety checkpoints, also known as OUI checkpoints. Police officers will set up a roadblock to stop motorists and determine if the motorist is impaired. The U.S. Supreme Court and the Maine Law Court have each held that a properly conducted sobriety checkpoint is an exception to the general principle that a police officer may not conduct an investigatory stop without reasonable suspicion. See, e.g. State v. McPartland, 2012 ME 12, 36 A.3d 881.
Beyond the initial stop, your rights at a sobriety checkpoint are the same as they are at other traffic stops. You are required to provide your license, registration, and proof of insurance, but you are not required to answer any questions about alcohol consumption or perform field sobriety tests. In fact, it is often best to (respectfully) decline to perform field sobriety tests, and decline to answer questions concerning alcohol consumption unless you can truthfully answer that you have not consumed any alcohol. If you reach a point where the officer is asking you to perform field sobriety tests, it means that the officer has already decided that you may be impaired based on other observations, i.e., erratic driving, smell of alcohol, admissions to consumption, difficulty producing your license or other documents, or other factors. If the officer then decides that there is probable cause to believe you are impaired, you will have a duty to submit to a test to determine your blood alcohol level. If you fail to take the test, you will be subject to a license suspension, enhanced penalties if convicted of OUI, and evidentiary consequences at any OUI trial.
Because the police are required to comply with specific policies and procedures to establish a sobriety checkpoint, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are charged with operating under the influence after being stopped at a sobriety checkpoint. Likewise, it is important to hire an attorney who understands how field sobriety tests and chemical tests are administered and how to attack their reliability.
This article is for informational and educational purposes, and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult legal counsel to assess the legal issues specific to your case. The attorneys at Libby O’Brien Kingsley & Champion have decades of experience in criminal law, including OUI defense. We handle OUI cases in all Maine courts, including those located in Biddeford, York, Springvale, Sanford, York, and Portland.