Checking out police checkpoints

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- The Albemarle County Police Department recently conducted a sobriety checkpoint that resulted in nine violations. However, none of them were a DUI, which concerns Libertarian Tyler Sewell.

"You should not have a checkpoint for anything other than something like a DUI, something that is actually harmful to others," he said.

Sewell doesn't believe that violations like an expired inspection sticker or not having a license should be enforced at a checkpoint.

"If I smell like liquor, they can pull me out and arrest me for drunk driving, but they shouldn't have the right to run a dragnet for all kinds of things," he said.

John Whitehead, attorney and founder of the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports civil rights, says these stops are constitutional.

"The Supreme Court's held that they're constitutional as long as there's specific criteria set forth by the chief of police or the administrative level, not the average officer so that you don't have officer discretion," Whitehead said.

According to Albemarle County Police spokesperson Madeleine Curott, county police follow strict written rules for checkpoints.

Whitehead says that anyone going through a checkpoint must provide license and registration, but shouldn't offer any additional information.

"Be courteous, show your license, but if you're asked any direct questions that might incriminate you, I would ask for an attorney at that point," Whitehead said.

He adds that a checkpoint can be avoided with a legal right or left turn, but an illegal U-turn would give police probable cause for an arrest.

Often, all cars passing through the checkpoint will be stopped, but searches are done based on reasonable suspicion, which is a lower legal threshold than probable cause. He notes that officers in some jurisdictions use passive alcohol sensors, which can be attached to a clipboard or a flashlight, to establish reasonable suspicion to administer further sobriety testing.

Whitehead advises drivers to keep their cars clear of all empty cans, including soda cans, which may cause suspicion.

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