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Chris July 3, 2013

Fourth of July weekend is regularly one of the heaviest drunk-driving patrol times and for good reason. In addition to celebrating our nation’s independence by blowing up a small piece of it, many people consume much of its grains and fruits in distilled and fermented forms. This year’s holiday coincides with the implementation of an additional DUI penalty: ignition interlock.

As of July 1, anyone who had a driver’s license suspended due to a DUI, either criminal or per se, must have an ignition interlock system installed in his or her car to resume driving. Ignition interlock is a Breathalyzer connected to the car that requires a negative alcohol test to start the car and (to prevent having someone else provide the sample) occasional tests while the car is driving in order for it to continue driving. The justification behind the new law is that it cuts down significantly on repeat DUI’s. There are also several changes to the per se suspensions. The legal limit has not changed.

State and local police departments will also be stepping up their patrols this weekend, including setting up sobriety checkpoints. Sobriety checkpoints are permissible under the Constitution but subject to restrictions. For one, they must be announced. The state police publish the locations of their checkpoints on their website and to the news media. Local police must also publish the times and locations (The Register has New Haven’s and East Haven’s here).

Sobriety checkpoints must also be administered neutrally and be minimally intrusive. Drivers cannot be targeted–all cars passing through the checkpoint are stopped and checked. Police must explain what they’re doing in the stop. Note that your right to remain silent still (and always) applies. A driver does not have to answer the officers’ questions, such as “Have you had anything to drink?” or “What’s in the cooler?” If you do decide to answer questions, you have to answer truthfully. Additionally, police can gather evidence from other sources, such as the smell of alcohol, observations of the driver and the inside of the car as well as the manner of driving. When the officer says that you are not free to go, then it becomes a dui stop, subject to the reasonable suspicion requirements. It is at this point that you should call an attorney (preferably me). It is important to note that you can refuse a field sobriety test (“walk and turn”, “touch your nose” etc.). It will not cause trigger a license suspension the way refusing a breath or chemical test does. Police can still arrest you but they must derive the probable cause from another source. In many drunk driving cases, there is not a loss of probable cause to arrest.

Drunk driving is serious and dangerous. First and foremost, no one should drive drunk. The information here is not intended to help people get away with driving drunk. It is to make them aware of the law. If you do manage to drive drunk and make it home without getting caught or into a collision, you are incredibly lucky and should it probably won’t happen again. A judge I regularly appear before often lectures defendants who plead to or take programs for DUI and other motor vehicle offenses, saying that driving a car while drunk or recklessly isn’t any different than firing a gun down a city street because it puts the public in danger. It’s hard to argue with that.

The best thing to do is not to drive drunk. A cab or car service will cost a lot less than what you will pay for an ignition interlock, the alcohol education program, the fee for me or one of my colleagues (I’ve very reasonable but I do cost more than a cab fare) and the immeasureable losses of time and possible (tragic) injuries.

Have fun, stay safe and call me if you get into trouble.