Is It Illegal to Warn Others about a Sobriety Checkpoint?
Chances are, if you have been out after dark on a Friday or Saturday night and in the vicinity of a popular nightclub, you have seen a police checkpoint. They generally are fairly obvious with bright lights and police vehicles. The point of these stops are to test for the sobriety of drivers on the road. Recently, more drivers are going through the checkpoints and then warning other drivers of a checkpoint ahead, most verbally but some go so far as to create signs and stand at corners. If you watch the driver’s reactions to the information, several of them turn and go the other direction, preventing a potential DUI charge. Did they do the right thing?
Are Checkpoints Even Legal?
While yes, an officer does need to have sufficient cause to stop a driver, the state of Illinois has determined that the dangers of drunk driving outweigh the intrusion of sobriety checkpoint. In other words, yes, in the state of Illinois, sobriety checkpoints, roadblocks, or mobile checkpoints are legal. However, the location of the checkpoint must be completely random and temporary. Officers are able to briefly interview the driver, at which point, if the driver is displaying suspicious behavior, the officer is entitled to conduct a field sobriety test. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these checkpoints potentially can prevent up to one in 10 DUI related deaths.
Can We Warn Other Drivers?
Citizens are creatively coming up with various methods to warn others of an oncoming DUI checkpoint. Some of the methods most used are:
- Flashing vehicle lights;
- Verbally warning other drivers; or
- Creating signs and posting them before the upcoming checkpoint is visible.
Why would you not be allowed to warn others? Well there are various arguments against it. These include:
- Obstructing justice;
- Flashing lights on vehicles; or
- High beams into oncoming traffic.
If you are going to warn your friends, be careful as to how you do it. You are well within your First Amendment rights to tell others. A phone call would be your safest option as you have a protected freedom of speech. If you flash your headlights, you may face charges for possessing flashing lights on vehicles (625 ILCS 5/12-212 section b). If you stand on a street corner with a sign, make sure that you stay on the sidewalk, not on the street or highway and do not use lighting that could temporarily blind drivers.
If you choose to warn others, you must understand that you could be reasonably hassled by police officers. Treat them respectfully and nonthreatening if they approach you. It may also be a good idea to have a friend there as a witness with a video camera, in case things do get out of hand. If a police officer orders that you leave a sidewalk where you are lawfully permitted to be, then you have evidence to file a complaint. It is also in the realm of possibility that an aggressive officer may opt to arrest you under charges of delaying or obstructing a police officer in the lawful performance of his duty. This is not to say that they should or certainly would, but it is a possibility. At the very least, you should expect that an officer will approach you to ask what you are doing and question your motives.
If you feel that you have been wrongly accused of obstructing justice or have been hassled for using your First Amendment rights, you may wish to seek legal counsel. It is reassuring to have someone with extensive knowledge of the legal system fighting for the rights that you deserve. If you are in the Addison, Maywood, or Cook County, Illinois area and would like to speak with an experienced Cook County criminal defense attorney, call Stringini & Garvey P.C. today for your free consultation at 630-834-9595.