Police Checkpoints in Indiana: A New Frontier in Law Enforcement
Drinking and driving is a leading cause of traffic deaths, and about 32 people die in drunk-driving crashes every day. That makes more than 11,000 deaths in 2020 alone, and the numbers are rising. In an effort to curb drinking and driving and crack down on enforcement of DUI laws, Indiana and other states have implemented traffic checkpoints. These checkpoints are intended to be a targeted and efficient way for law enforcement to screen for illegal drinking and driving. Police checkpoints in Indiana are becoming more common, and every citizen should know what they are and what their rights are should they end up in one.
If you find yourself charged with a crime after going through a police checkpoint, call a trusted Indianapolis DUI defense attorney at Keffer Hirschauer LLP. We can evaluate your case, determine if any of your rights were violated, and formulate a strategy to achieve a favorable outcome.
Police Checkpoints in Indiana: What You Should Know
What exactly are police checkpoints in Indiana? Police checkpoints are set up by constructing a temporary roadblock that diverts cars passing through a barrier supervised by law enforcement. Law enforcement then stops and inspects some drivers and vehicles passing through the checkpoint. In Indiana, these checkpoints are most commonly set up to screen for drunk drivers. However, they can also be set up to screen for drugs, undocumented immigrants, or other illegal activity.
The best protection is arming yourself with knowledge about the law on police checkpoints, your rights when going through a checkpoint, what you should and shouldn’t do at a checkpoint, and how to help your defense attorney prepare a challenge to a checkpoint arrest.
The Law on Police Checkpoints in Indiana
Checkpoints can seem like an intrusive and even unfair experience, so it is natural to wonder: are DUI checkpoints legal? At a federal level, the answer is yes. When checkpoints first came on the scene, advocates challenged their constitutionality, arguing that because police have no probable cause to search vehicles coming through the checkpoint, a search violated the prohibition in the US Constitution on unreasonable searches and seizures. However, the Supreme Court has held that temporary DUI checkpoints do not violate the Constitution because the importance of keeping the roads safe outweighs the intrusion of a vehicle search.
Although the US Constitution does not protect citizens from police checkpoints, some states offer such protections in their state constitutions. So, are DUI checkpoints legal in Indiana? The law on police checkpoints in Indiana is clear: they are legal. Indiana is just one of 37 states that permits this type of law enforcement.
That doesn’t mean that police are free to operate checkpoints however they please. Some limitations and guidelines must be followed. For example, the checkpoint must:
- Only conduct stops of a short duration
- Be set up on a temporary basis
- Be located at a random location
- Last no longer than what is reasonably necessary
- Be publicized ahead of time
- Take adequate safety measures
- Ensure officers are identifiable
- Have a neutral and predictable process
If police checkpoints in Indiana violate any of these guidelines, the violation may invalidate an arrest made or a citation given at the checkpoint.
You should also be aware of Indiana’s general drinking and driving laws. Under Indiana Code § 9-30-5-1, it is a Class C misdemeanor to operate a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or higher. However, even if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is lower than .08 percent, police officers have the discretion to determine whether it is safe for you to drive, and, depending on the circumstances, may still arrest you.
Your Rights at Police Checkpoints in Indiana
Before you even get to a checkpoint, you should know that you are not required to drive through the checkpoint at all. If you see the roadblock, you are absolutely within your rights to turn off before the checkpoint and take another route. Generally, if you do not wish to go through the checkpoint, you can avoid it as long as you do not engage in any unlawful behavior in doing so. For example, you can make a legal turn or any other legal and safe vehicle maneuver to get on a different course and avoid the checkpoint. It is not uncommon, however, for people avoiding checkpoints to draw the attention of law enforcement patrolling near a checkpoint.
If you do drive through a checkpoint, you have several rights that must be preserved. First, you have the right not to be stopped for an unreasonable amount of time. Courts have determined that a lengthy stop is intrusive and is, therefore, not permitted at checkpoints. At police checkpoints in Indiana, a reasonable amount of time to be stopped is generally between 30 seconds and two minutes, unless there is reason to detain a driver for a longer period of time.
Second, you have the right to decline to answer any questions. When the police conduct their search, they may ask the driver of the car or the passengers questions about where they are going, what they are doing, or other questions. You have the absolute right to refuse to answer. There is no need to be rude to the officer, you can simply tell them that you wish not to answer or that you will answer questions pertaining to the information you are required to provide.
Next, if an officer believes that you have been engaged in drinking and driving, he or she may ask you to submit to a field sobriety test. Sometimes officers do not phrase their request as a clear question and may make you think you have no choice. However, you have the right to refuse the field sobriety test. Finally, police at a checkpoint may request to search your vehicle. You have the right to refuse a request to search your vehicle as well.
Check out common Indianapolis police checkpoint locations in this infographic.
What to Do If You Encounter a Checkpoint
If you drive through one of the police checkpoints in Indiana, you should know what to expect. Not every car will be stopped and checked at the checkpoint. Police generally only stop a fraction of the cars and must decide which cars to stop in a neutral manner. If you are stopped, an officer will ask you to roll down your window and may ask you a few questions. He or she will check your registration and analyze your actions, body language, and appearance to determine whether you have been drinking and driving.
When you are at police checkpoints in Indiana, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and avoid a negative interaction with the police or an arrest. First, slow down as you enter the checkpoint. Speeding through will only draw unwanted attention to your vehicle. Second, you are required to provide certain information at the checkpoint, including your:
- Date of birth
- Current address
- Driver’s license
If an officer requests this information, it is best to provide it voluntarily, quickly, and respectfully. However, keep it simple and do not volunteer any extra information that is not asked for. If you have been drinking, do not volunteer this information. Anything you say can be used against you, and you have the right not to answer. Lastly, if you are arrested at a checkpoint, do not resist. The best time to fight an arrest is afterward with the help of an experienced Indianapolis DUI defense attorney.
Challenging an Arrest at Police Checkpoints in Indiana
If you are arrested at one of the police checkpoints in Indiana, an experienced Indianapolis DUI defense attorney may be able to find a basis to challenge the validity of the arrest. You are entitled to your day in court and to make your case that the arrest was not legitimate. Courts will look at the evidence presented and make a determination as to the legality of the arrest and the checkpoint.
Courts consider several factors when enforcing DUI checkpoint laws, including:
- Why was the checkpoint located where it was?
- Was the defendant stopped in accordance with a neutral process?
- How long did the stop last?
- Was the defendant able to identify the checkpoint and police officers?
- Was the checkpoint announced and publicized?
- Was the checkpoint avoidable?
If your attorney can prove that your encounter with police or the checkpoint itself violated either your rights under federal or state law or the requirements for Indiana DUI checkpoints, your arrest may be thrown out. That’s why it is critical to pay attention to as many details as possible when you go through a checkpoint. As long as you don’t interfere with the police officers doing their job, you can even record your trip through police checkpoints in Indiana. When you speak with your attorney, don’t leave any details out; you may not be aware of what can make a difference in the outcome of your case.
A Criminal Defense Attorney at Keffer Hirschauer LLP Can Help
If you’ve been arrested at a police checkpoint in Indiana, your best chance at a dropped charge or reduced sentence is having a skilled attorney in your corner. Experienced attorneys know the DUI checkpoint laws inside and out and can identify when police have overstepped their bounds. While no one condones drinking and driving, you also have rights that deserve to be protected.
An experienced Indianapolis DUI defense attorney at Keffer Hirschauer LLP can help with your case. We will work with you to understand the circumstances around your arrest and formulate a strategy to offer your best shot in court. We have extensive knowledge of the laws regarding police checkpoints in Indiana and will leave no stone unturned. For a free consultation, call us at (317) 648-9560 or send us a message through our online contact form.