What rights do South Carolina drivers have at sobriety checkpoints?

DUI checkpoints are used by law enforcement to identify impaired motorists, but by knowing their rights, drivers may avoid an unnecessary arrest.

In South Carolina and across the U.S., it is illegal for motorists to operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol content level of .08 percent or greater. Sobriety checkpoints are law enforcement stops that are conducted at specific locations to identify drivers who are intoxicated or otherwise impaired. South Carolina is among numerous states that permit these types of checks. In order to avoid being unnecessarily arrested at a DUI checkpoint, motorists need to have an understanding their rights.

Talking to the authorities

In most cases, law enforcement officers at sobriety checkpoints first approach the stopped automobiles and speak with the drivers. People often talk to the authorities and answer their questions because they feel obligated to do so. However, drivers are not required to respond to questioning at such stops. Rather, they may choose to inform law enforcement of their intention to invoke their constitutional rights. These rights include the ability to seek legal counsel prior to speaking with the authorities and to leave if they are not being arrested.

Performing roadside tests

When law enforcement officers suspect drivers are under the influence of alcohol, they often ask them to perform field sobriety tests. If people have not been drinking, these tasks may serve as proof and help them to be on their way. However, if they are intoxicated or perform poorly for any number of reasons, roadside tests may be used as grounds for an arrest or for the authorities to investigate further.

Compliance with requests to perform field sobriety tests is completely voluntary. Though, drivers should keep in mind that refusing to perform these tasks does not guarantee they will not be arrested. Instead, the authorities may have a more difficult time proving their case at trial.

Submitting to chemical testing

If the authorities have enough cause, they may place suspected drunk drivers under arrest at sobriety checkpoints. Often, they will then ask the motorists to submit to a breath, blood or urine test to determine their BAC level. By driving in the state, people are considered to have consented to such testing. While they may still refuse to provide a sample for chemical testing, doing will result in additional penalties.

Refusing to submit to a chemical test may result in an automatic driver's license suspension. The length of the driving restriction depends on the motorist's prior record. People may be prohibited from operating vehicles for 90 days for a first offense and 180 days if they have previously been convicted of an alcohol-related offense.

Seeking legal guidance

Many South Carolinians overlook the potential effects of a DUI conviction. However, people have been arrested for drunk driving may continue to deal with the consequences long after they have served their time and paid their fines. Therefore, it may benefit drivers who are suspected of DUI to obtain legal representation. An attorney may help ensure their rights have not been violated, and help them develop a defense against the charges they are facing.