What rights do South Carolina drivers have at DUI checkpoints?

By not knowing their rights at DUI checkpoints, South Carolina motorists put themselves in jeopardy of being unnecessarily arrested.

Each year, thousands of people are arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in South Carolina. In fact, the State Law Enforcement Division reports more than 18,000 people were arrested for DUI in 2012 alone. For some, these arrests may have come as the result of getting stopped at a DUI checkpoint. Often, people do not know their rights during such stops, which may lead to unwarranted arrests.

Responding to questions

When people are stopped at sobriety checkpoints, it is common for law enforcement officers to approach their vehicles and ask them some questions. Often, authorities use drivers' answers, as well as how they answer, to help them determine if they are intoxicated. While potentially incriminating, most people feel obligated to roll down their windows and talk with law enforcement. They are not legally required to, however.

Instead, people may choose to leave their windows rolled up and show authorities a card or flyer stating they wish to exercise their constitutional rights. This includes the right not to speak to law enforcement until they have consulted with their attorneys. Furthermore, they should be allowed to go on their way if they are not being arrested.

Field sobriety tests

In an effort to determine if motorists are under the influence of alcohol, law enforcement officers commonly ask people to perform roadside tests. Also known as field sobriety tests, these may include the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the one-leg stand, and the walk and turn. When making their request, the authorities may neglect to tell people they do not have to submit to these tests. Drivers do, however, have the right to refuse to perform field sobriety tests.

It is important for motorists to understand that refusing to perform field sobriety tests will not guarantee that they will not be arrested. Rather, it may simply make it slightly more difficult for authorities to prove they were intoxicated during their criminal trials. Furthermore, performing these tests when they are not drunk may help people prove to law enforcement officers they should be allowed to go on their way.

Breath, blood and urine tests

In the event drivers are arrested for suspected DUI, they are often asked to submit to chemical testing. This may include a breath, blood or urine test to determine their blood alcohol content level. Under South Carolina's implied consent law, people who drive in the state automatically consent to provide a sample for such tests.

While the law does allow drivers to refuse a breath, blood or urine test, doing so carries penalties. Those who refuse chemical tests are subject to a driver's license suspension for at least six months. In some cases, the suspension period may be ended sooner if the driver enrolls in the state's ignition interlock device program.

Obtain legal representation

Driving under the influence is a serious offense in South Carolina, with potentially lasting consequences. For that reason, those facing such charges may benefit from working with an attorney. A lawyer may explain their options, and help them to build a strong defense, which may include questioning if their rights were violated during their stop or arrest.