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Are sobriety checkpoints legal in New York?

At sobriety checkpoints, officers have the authority to stop drivers and test for intoxication. The police do not need reasonable cause or suspicion to do this. It seems to go against a citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights, but close examination of the Constitution has allowed it to pass in several states. 

The NYPD takes these stops very seriously. It has gone as far as ordering Google to modify its popular Waze app to prevent drivers from warning others of a checkpoint’s location. Here is what you should know to best protect your rights at a sobriety checkpoint.

Know state regulations

Some state constitutions have further laws that make sobriety checkpoints unlawful. New York has no stipulations like these, so by federal law, it is perfectly legal for the NYPD to set up these stops.

If you see a checkpoint up ahead and decide to turn around, a police officer may still pursue your vehicle. The argument here is that your abrupt avoidance presents a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. This is true even if you have not actually committed an illegal act.

Be aware of unlawful searches

Though it may be legal for police officers to stop you at a sobriety checkpoint, you still have rights during this exchange. Unless you give the officer a reason to suspect that you have been drinking or engaging in other illegal activity, he or she cannot demand to search your person or your vehicle. In order for this to happen, you must give consent, which is entirely up to you.

Some officers may coerce an admission of guilt simply because some drivers do not know what the police have permission to do. If you feel you were the victim of intimidation tactics, or you believe that the officer performed an unlawful search during the checkpoint, you have sufficient grounds to fight any resulting charges.

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