As the holiday season kicks into gear (see my blog post earlier this week about Oktoberfest in Helen, Georgia), the Georgia State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies around the state will rely increasingly on vehicle safety checkpoints to enforce traffic laws. While roadblocks are used to detect a wide variety of violations, many DUI arrests occur at roadblocks. Roadblocks make officers' jobs easier by removing the requirement that an officer have reasonable suspicion before effectuating a traffic stop. They infringe on our privacy rights in other ways, too. However, this does not mean, that you are without any rights if you are stopped at a roadblock. This article is intended to inform you of some of these rights.
First, do you have to answer questions asked of you at a roadblock? The answer is “no.” For example, if an officer asks you how much you have had to drink, you are not required to answer this question. In fact, I highly recommend that you do not answer (unless the honest answer is “none”). You may simply say, “I prefer not to answer that question.” Of course, remain respectful and do not become belligerent.
Even if you deny drinking alcohol, the officer may request that you perform Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). These tests are also voluntary, and you cannot be compelled to perform them. It is our advice to never submit to field sobriety testing.
Sometimes, individuals who know that they have ingested alcohol and are not eager to encounter the Georgia State Patrol attempt to avoid a roadblock. They may do this by making a U-turn, turning around in a parking lot, turning without signaling, etc. This arouses the suspicion of the police officers working the roadblock, and the officers will frequently track these individuals down and initiate a stop.
Legal, normal driving that may cause you to avoid a roadblock is permissible, and the police cannot stop you if you did not commit any traffic offense. However, abnormal or unusual actions taken to avoid a roadblock may give rise to a reasonable suspicion required to initiate a traffic stop. These actions do not necessarily have to be illegal.
While this may seem relatively cut and dry, it is not always so simple. Georgia courts tend to give law enforcement officers the benefit of the doubt. What it boils down to is the question of whether the officer believed in “good faith” that the evasive maneuver was an attempt to avoid the roadblock. However, the officer must be able to articulate a reason for believing that the individual was trying to avoid the roadblock – his actions cannot be based on a “hunch” alone.
In sum, while roadblocks are in many ways a violation of our rights and privacy, this does not mean that individuals who are stopped at these roadblocks are left without any rights. Know your rights, be wise, and drive carefully.