Know Your Rights at DUI Checkpoints for this Weekend

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By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader

The Illinois State Police along with local law enforcement agencies held a press conference on Aug. 31 announcing they will be out in full force this holiday weekend looking for impaired drivers to keep the roads safe. Last year 16 people died in traffic accidents over the Labor Day weekend.

Officials say drunk drivers will be their top priority but they will also be looking for distracted drivers talking on phones, passengers not wearing seat belts and speeders. It all comes as more Americans are having confrontations with cops at DUI checkpoints, which cops say are constitutional and drivers say are just annoying and do nothing to stop inebriated drivers. Drivers say while the checkpoints are legal, the questions many officers ask are unconstitutional and enrage drivers.

The 4th Amendment protects citizens from unwarranted search and seizure, meaning it comes down to if the officer has probable cause, says a leading defense attorney. This is where the situation gets murky for Black Americans and common sense tends to be the way most people go even if it means their rights will be violated.

Police have the right to stop you briefly at a DUI checkpoint, but they do not have the right to search you or your car without permission, unless they have probable cause to do so, says Attorney David Cantor. That could mean observing an open container of alcohol, smelling the odor of alcohol or drugs coming from the person or vehicle or having a weapon in plain site.

Cantor and other attorneys advises citizens to limit the amount of evidence the officer can obtain by invoking your 5th Amendment right to not answer any questions without the presence of an attorney. However that could mean you will be arrested if you do not go through with field sobriety tests or blow into a device that measures blood alcohol level in Illinois.

But Cantor says accepting the arrest and limiting the evidence, which will be based off the test results, gives you a better chance of beating the charges in court because the more you say to the officer the more evidence you provide against yourself.

“Eat the bust and fight it later is what most attorneys tell their clients,” Cantor said.

What attorneys advise people not to do is get into long heated arguments with police. They say this is becoming more popular as people post videos on social media showing how they dressed down a cop.

Warren J. Breslin is a local defense attorney and former policeman. He said citizens often incriminate themselves with their actions. He said under know circumstances should a citizen resist arrest at any time, because it will result in more charges. Instead Breslin offer sound legal advise should you find yourself being pulled over by the police and are suspected of committing a crime.

“It seems that the vast majority of arrests involve traffic stops,” Breslin said. “The police may be pursuing an escaping felon or merely following a hunch while issuing a routine minor traffic citation. A youthful driver or suspicious vehicle may be curbed just to be ‘checked out.’ Good law abiding citizens are oftentimes caught up in criminal investigations during seemingly casual encounters with police officers.

“When a police officer asks a stopped motorist whether he had been drinking, where he had been earlier, where he is going, etc., the officer is not making harmless conversation. He is gathering evidence against the motorist. When a police officer pursues a line of questioning of an individual in any type of case, one can expect that he is being targeted by the officer in an investigation.

Providing answers to questions that would normally seem not to be incriminating may prove to be key evidence in a prosecutors case, a statement that provides corroborative evidence to an allegation or that provides a necessary motive or opportunity for a crime,” Breslin explained.

In Chicago, it has been documented the vast majority of DUI checkpoints have been setup in African American communities, despite according to the city’s own data, communities that have higher alcohol related crashes never see a DUI checkpoint, according to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune last year. That is where common sense for Black citizens needs to come in say many in the community.

“We already know they are looking at us so we need to take extra precautions to make sure we don’t fall in their traps,” said driver Ruth Johnson, who was on her way to Memphis for the holidays. “I keep my license, registration, and insurance next to me in the car where I can get to it before the cop even gets to my window if I’m pulled over. If I’m drinking, I’ll ride with someone else who isn’t. I do whatever I can to lessen encounters with police because I simply don’t trust or like them frankly.”

Breslin added that oftentimes people waive their constitutional rights incorrectly thinking that by cooperating with police, they will be cut a break. Instead it he says in most cases they just made an officer’s job easier.

“Everyone knows about his Miranda rights from television and movies. But few exercise their rights,” Breslin said. “People still wrongly believe that the police may go easier on them if they confess or relinquish other evidence against themselves…. most feel compelled to speak, submit to tests, consent to searches, and waive their constitutional rights generally. Know your rights, and rarely waive them! Be assertive! Politely decline to answer questions, and talk with your lawyer before providing the police with any information.”

Police would not reveal the exact locations of all DUI checkpoints this weekend during their press conference held at Buckingham Fountain. But Crusader has learned from sources one of the areas expected to be targeted is along the Dan Ryan expressway, which has been a favorite for law enforcement the past year. In the past Illinois State police and CPD have done the checkpoints at exit ramps on area expressways and along major streets like Stony Island Ave. between 79th and 95th. Since January there have been eight DUI checkpoints on the South Side with 87th and the Dan Ryan being the location on three of those occasions.

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