Drunk Driver Crashes into Patrol Car: Are Sobriety Checkpoints Legal for DUI?

A story that may seem humorous to some actually sheds light on a very serious matter under Pennsylvania law: Drunk driving. According to Philadelphia’s NBC 10 News, a man was arrested for DUI after he allegedly smashed his vehicle into a police patrol car at a sobriety checkpoint. The incident occurred around 10:00 p.m. on May 20, 2017, when the man drove through traffic cones, struck a detective’s car and pushed it into another law enforcement vehicle. The irony of the situation is that the police car that was damaged is a “Don’t Drink and Drive” cruiser that was recently unveiled as a reminder to not participate in this type of risky behavior. However, another important item of note in the story is that it involves a sobriety checkpoint, stops that are somewhat controversial. Here’s what you need to know about sobriety checkpoints in Pennsylvania and what to do if you’re pulled over.

Purpose of Sobriety Checkpoints

These stops aren’t based upon probable cause or reasonable suspicion of drunk driving, but are intended to be a random check for impaired motorists. The locations are temporary and random, and may be tied to an event or holiday where officials believe there may be higher incidents of drunk driving. All drivers that encounter the sobriety checkpoint are stopped and detained briefly.

Probable Cause Considerations

Checkpoints are legal under Pennsylvania law, despite some controversy that they’re an unconstitutional search and seizure. The US Supreme Court has held that the risks drunk drivers pose on the roadway are significant, outweighing any civil rights violation. Therefore, a certain degree of intrusion is acceptable, including sobriety checkpoints. Still, to counter the potential for unlawful search and seizure, the federal government requires law enforcement to publicize the details in advance so that motorists have notice.

Penalties for DUI in Pennsylvania

The sentence for a DUI conviction depends upon the amount of alcohol in your blood system and your prior history with drunk driving. Pennsylvania has a three-tiered structure in these cases:

  • General Impairment: .08 to .099 percent BAC;
  • High BAC = .10 to .159 percent BAC; and,
  • Highest BAC = .16 percent BAC and higher.

The punishment if you have no prior DUIs ranges from six months’ probation and a $300 fine up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine. If you have a history of DUI convictions, you may be looking at five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. In all but the most minor drunk driving cases, your driver’s license is subject to suspension.

Consult with a Pennsylvania DUI Attorney Right Away

If you have been charged with drunk driving pursuant to a sobriety checkpoint in Pennsylvania, an experienced DUI lawyer can help. There may be legal challenges to the stop, providing you with a potential defense or allowing you to negotiate for lesser charges. An experienced attorney can identify weaknesses in the state’s case against you and represent your interests in court. For more information on sobriety checkpoints and other methods police may use in connection with DUI casesplease contact the West Chester, PA offices of the Skinner Law Firm. We can answer your questions or schedule a consultation to discuss your matter in more detail.

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