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Most drivers in Maine are familiar with sobriety checkpoints but how many are familiar with sobriety checkpoint law?
Anyone driving up to an OUI roadblock is potentially entering a life-altering situation. An OUI conviction in Maine could cost you your freedom, driving privileges, and/or your financial health.
So, all drivers should understand what the laws governing these situations are. Most importantly, are you obliged to pass through a police checkpoint and if you do, what are your rights and obligations?
Here’s what you need to know about sobriety checkpoint law in Maine…
Sobriety checkpoints are sometimes known as “OUI roadblocks”. They are points on the roads in Maine where the police either stop every vehicle or a random selection of vehicles, to check for drivers over the legal alcohol limit or under the influence of drugs.
These checkpoints can be set up at any time, but often appear more frequently during holiday periods and in the summer.
While “reasonable suspicion” of a crime being committed is necessary to stop a person for most crimes in the U.S., the Supreme Court has exempted sobriety checkpoints from this requirement.
This is because these brief stops are generally considered to be in the public interest and minimally invasive of the right to personal privacy. However, to be lawful, the checkpoints must be set up in a particular way and conform to several requirements. Otherwise, they may be unconstitutional.
Also, the same constitutionality does not extend to police requests to conduct further questioning and field sobriety tests by the side of the road unless certain criteria are met. You can legally refuse to comply with these requests at sobriety checkpoints.
Neither does it extend to searching you or your vehicle for unrelated criminal activity without reasonable suspicion, based on observation of your behavior.
The bottom line is that if the police pull you over at a sobriety checkpoint, and you are found to be over the legal limit, you can be lawfully arrested and charged with OUI.
If you are approaching a sobriety checkpoint, are you legally required to pass through it? This is one of the key questions that motorists in Maine have on this topic.
The answer is no – as long as no traffic crime is committed. You do not have to wait in line to be checked and can turn your vehicle around and drive away as long as you do not violate any traffic laws in the process.
Always pull over if an emergency vehicle is behind you on the road with flashing lights or a siren. However, the police cannot lawfully chase your vehicle before a sobriety checkpoint or use emergency lights/sirens unless a traffic violation was committed.
So, if you drive away, do so calmly, observing all road safety laws and within the speed limit.
If you decide to continue to the checkpoint, it is important to meet certain expectations and understand what your legal rights are.
Like with other traffic stops, you will be required to provide your license, registration, and proof of insurance. This is mandatory.
You will also be asked a series of questions, but legally you do not have to answer any questions about alcohol consumption or perform field sobriety tests unless there is reasonable suspicion.
The police must also follow a strict set of protocols concerning their conduct at OUI roadblocks.
Under sobriety checkpoint laws, the roadblock must be “reasonable” in planning, design and execution.
The times and locations of checkpoints are generally announced beforehand by the local police departments, often on social media. This is done as much as a preventative measure (to deter people from driving over the limit) as to conform to privacy laws.
When the checks are underway, the police are not allowed to arbitrarily select which vehicles to stop and must follow the pre-set plan (to avoid discriminatory practices).
Police officers should also explain the process when you pull up to a sobriety checkpoint so that motorists understand why the check is being conducted and what is required of them.
There are other general requirements of Maine law enforcement when motorists pull up to a sobriety checkpoint. Most notably, these are:
Police must be brief with questioning. You should expect to answer simple questions like “Where are you coming from?” and “have you been drinking?” While you do not legally have to answer these questions, it may be best to do so unless you want to arouse suspicion. Provide honest answers.
The officer will be trained to detect signs of alcohol usage, such as the smell, slurred speech or red eyes.
Reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired is required if a law enforcement officer wants to question a driver further or conduct field sobriety tests after the initial interaction.
However, under Maine law, an admission of drinking and/or slightly exceeding the speed limit or driving erratically when approaching the checkpoint may be construed as an indication of impairment and reason to detain the motorist.
If you are asked to conduct a field sobriety test, you are already under suspicion by the officer – but that does not mean that the requests are lawful.
If the officer then decides that there is probable cause to believe you are impaired, you must submit to a test to determine your blood alcohol level. You cannot refuse this test without having your license suspended. You will also face enhanced penalties if convicted of OUI.
Just because legal responsibilities should guide the actions of law enforcement, it doesn’t mean that they are always followed.
Drivers are pulled over illegally after they attempt to leave a checkpoint or are questioned too intently without reasonable suspicion of impairment. Sometimes, arrests are made without due process being followed or constitutional rights observed.
Whatever the reason, if you are arrested on suspicion of OUI, the consequences can be alarming: fines, suspensions and a criminal record.
To avoid the harshest penalties associated with a conviction, speak with an OUI attorney experienced in sobriety checkpoint cases. There are many potential defenses available if you are charged with OUI and sobriety checkpoint law provides opportunities to build a strong case.
Speak to a defense lawyer at The Maine Criminal Defense Group if an OUI charge has been filed against you after a stop made at a sobriety checkpoint. Call us directly at (207) 571-8146 or contact us online.
If you are facing criminal charges in Maine, the attorneys at The Maine Criminal Defense Group are here to help. Call our office to speak with
one of our team members, who will discuss your case with you and set up a consultation with one of our attorneys
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