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Las Vegas DUI Checkpoints

Nevada aggressively combats drunk driving and for good reason. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 100 people die in alcohol-related crashes each year in Nevada, with thousands more being injured. These accidents not only take away our family and friends, but they cause millions of dollars in losses.

One tool in the state’s arsenal to combat drunk driving is the DUI checkpoint. Years ago, there was some dispute about whether checkpoints were constitutional, but that issue has been decided. Las Vegas police can legally stop you at a checkpoint and ask you questions. If they suspect you are intoxicated or otherwise impaired, they can pull you over and issue a traffic ticket. They might even arrest you.

If you have never confronted a DUI checkpoint, you might be confused about the process for passing through one. Our Las Vegas drunk driving accident attorneys provide more detail below.

How DUI Checkpoints Work

Generally, the police can only stop and question someone if they have a valid reason for doing so. Otherwise, citizens are free to go about their business without government interference.

A DUI checkpoint is an exception. Police set them up on various roads around Las Vegas, particularly on nights when they expect many people to be out drinking and driving. You will know you are approaching a checkpoint because traffic will probably be stopped up a bit as the police talk to drivers.

Each checkpoint is handled a little differently depending on the traffic. Sometimes, the police will stop every vehicle that passes through, while at other times they might stop every second or third vehicle. The key point is that the stops are basically random.

At the stop, the police will ask to see your license and registration. They also ask simple questions, such as where you are going and where you are traveling from. Officers are typically looking for signs you are drunk—alcohol on your breath, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, etc. If the officer suspects you have been drinking (or committing another crime), the officer will ask you to pull over. They will probably administer field sobriety tests and a breath test.

Common DUI Checkpoint Locations in Las Vegas

Many people are surprised to come upon a DUI checkpoint. However, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department sometimes announce ahead of time where they are setting them up. Some common locations over the years include:

  • Blue Diamond Rd
  • Frank Sinatra Drive
  • Harrison Drive
  • Paradise Rd
  • Tropicana Ave

You should also be able to see a DUI checkpoint coming from a distance away. Under Nevada’s law, a roadblock must be visible from 100 yards away in either direction. The roadblock should also have a stop sign, which must be visible from 50 yards away. Police also need to put up a warning sign, even when constructing a checkpoint in a rural area. These requirements give drivers notice that they are approaching a roadblock.

Checking for Drug Use

Although the purpose of the stop should be to check for drunk drivers, the police officer flashing a light in your face is looking for any criminal violation. If he suspects you have been using marijuana or another drug, you can expect to be pulled over and possibly asked to take a blood or urine test.

Avoiding a Las Vegas DUI Checkpoint

It is not against the law to avoid a roadblock. However, you need to avoid it legally. What does that mean? It’s easy: you can avoid the roadblock but cannot do so in a way that violates a traffic law, such as pulling an illegal U-Turn. You can take a side street and avoid the roadblock if you want and doing so does not give the police a valid reason for pursuing you and pulling you over.

We encourage drivers to pay attention while driving because the police should provide notice of the roadblock. Never do anything illegal or even risky to avoid one, however.

Refusing to Stop

Though you can legally divert to avoid a checkpoint, you can’t barrel through. Under Nevada law 484B.580 it is a gross misdemeanor to fail to stop, and you could spend time in jail and have to pay a fine.

If the police give chase, or if you end up injuring someone because you did not stop, then you are committing other offenses and could be charged as a felon. We encourage everyone to stop if they cannot avoid the roadblock by diverting.

Constitutional Issues

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that people should be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. The Amendment also says that police cannot get a search warrant unless they have “probable cause.” Of course, in the traffic context, it is not convenient to get a warrant from a judge. Nevertheless, the general rule is that an officer needs probable cause to believe you have committed a crime in order to pull you over.

Roadblocks obviously violate the probable cause requirement. Officers stop people at a checkpoint for no other reason than that the driver is on the road. Many people believed that they were unconstitutional for this reason and that the
United States Supreme Court would strike them down.

That didn’t happen, however. Instead, the court upheld DUI checkpoints as constitutional in a 1990 case, Michigan Department of State Police v. Sits. The Court’s reasoning was that any delay was minimal. The Court also held that the types of questions asked at a roadblock were not sufficiently intrusive to raise Fourth Amendment concerns.

At the same time, the Supreme Court reasoned, checkpoints have the potential to catch many drunk drivers and save lives, so the minimal intrusion into a driver’s privacy was outweighed by the public interest.

Illegal Checkpoints in Las Vegas

Though checkpoints are generally constitutional, not every individual checkpoint will be. Some of them are illegal for the following reasons:

  • The checkpoint is not set up according to state law.
  • The officer asks more than superficial questions.
  • The officer asks a driver to pull over even though there is no probable cause of a crime committed.

For example, an officer cannot ask you to pull over and take a field sobriety test because he has a “hunch” that you are drunk. He needs valid reasons.

How to Pass Through a DUI Checkpoint

There is some controversy about the best way to pass through a checkpoint. The officer will want to see your license, registration, and insurance, so you must hand those over.

However, you are not legally required to answer the officer’s questions. The Constitution protects against self-incrimination, so no one is forced to talk. Instead, you can stay silent or say, “I’d prefer not to answer.”

Of course, this type of response might make an officer suspicious. Some might give you a hard time if you just sit silently and refuse to answer their questions. An officer might start flashing his light in your car if you refuse to tell him where you are going.

Some people recommend that you put your license, registration, and insurance inside a plastic bag and hand it over before quickly rolling your window back up. Others recommend simply pressing these documents to the glass so that the officer can read them.

We are not sure about the legality of taking those steps. If anything, an officer probably will claim he can’t see the license clearly enough through a window, so he will request that you roll it down.

Drunk Driving Accident Lawyers in Las Vegas

At Naqvi Injury Law, we represent men and women injured in drunk driving accidents, so we have seen close up the damage that intoxicated drivers can cause. If you were hurt in an accident, please call us today to schedule a free consultation.