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What you need to know about sobriety checkpoints

Few things are more rattling than seeing flashing lights in your rear-view mirror after a few beers or a couple cocktails. For that reason, you regularly take steps to avoid drinking and driving. Still, many motorists in the St. Louis area find themselves behind the wheel after a night on the town. 

Missouri law allows law enforcement personnel to establish sobriety checkpoints. Rather than looking for signs a specific driver may have had too much to drink, officers at these checkpoints screen every motorist on the road for drunk driving. Before you come across a sobriety checkpoint, you should know a few things about this enforcement approach. 

You cannot avoid sobriety checkpoints 

Officers use sobriety checkpoints because they work. When there is a checkpoint on the road in front of you, you must proceed through it. If you stop or detour in an attempt to avoid the checkpoint, officers can legally pursue your vehicle. Even if your route naturally causes you to turn before the checkpoint, officers may pull you over to determine if you are trying to dodge the checkpoint altogether. 

Officers do not need probable cause to question you 

Normally, police officers cannot stop your vehicle without probable cause. That is, officers need a legally valid reason to pull your vehicle over. That is not the case with sobriety checkpoints, however. The U.S. Supreme Court has determined officers have a substantial government interest in curtailing drunk driving. As such, sobriety checkpoints are legal, provided police carry them out in a non-discriminatory way. 

Officers must have a reason to search your vehicle 

Sobriety checkpoints allow officers to detain you long enough to determine whether you are driving under the influence of alcohol. For officers to search you or your vehicle, they must have probable cause. Note, though, if an officer smells alcohol, he or she may legally search your vehicle at a sobriety checkpoint without first obtaining a warrant. The officer may also ask you to submit to a breathalyzer or field sobriety test. 

If you have had anything to drink, it is best you not drive so you do not have to worry about the legal consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol.

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Travis Noble is a graduate of the National College for DUI Defense at Harvard University, and he lectures at seminars nationwide on DWI/DUI topics. He is the lawyer whom other lawyers consult to defend their DWI clients. Most importantly, he has a track record of successfully defending some of the toughest DWI cases in Missouri and beyond.

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