When the average Southern Nevadan or Las Vegas tourist thinks of sobriety checkpoints, they usually think of the police stopping people on St. Patrick’s Day to see how much green beer they consumed, or on Cinco De Mayo to ask drivers if they had one too many margaritas. But the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has been defying those conventions recently, putting checkpoints up on random weekends and not just checking for alcohol.
For the past two months, Las Vegas Metro, or LVMPD, has created checkpoints for days on non-holiday weekends. The most recent is September 22. The checkpoints typically involve what’s called a “DUI van,” which is a mobile unit that contains testing equipment so police can immediately check the blood of drivers they suspect might be intoxicated. Typically, Las Vegas police have announced the checkpoints ahead of time, saying that publicizing their plans reduces the number of intoxicated drivers. The law also requires the police department to publicize the checkpoints so that motorists are aware of intrusions into their Fourth Amendment rights.
Police at these checkpoints are not just looking for drunk drivers, either. Checkpoints recently have employed so-called “Drug Recognition Expert Officers,” who are supposed to be trained to recognize drivers who may be under the influence of any other substance while driving. Many people know that a blood-alcohol content of .08 or more could put them in jail, and they often know how many drinks it takes to get them there. Fewer people realize that there are laws prohibiting driving under the influence of marijuana or other controlled substances.
You can be charged with a DUI if police detect 2 nanograms per milliliter or more of active marijuana or THC in your blood, or 5 nanograms of marijuana metabolite. That includes marijuana that is prescribed, as well. Other controlled substances have less specific legal standards. You can be charged if you are under the influence “to a degree which renders the driver incapable of safely driving or exercising physical control of the vehicle.” Prescription drugs, including Vicodin, codeine, Oxycontin and Ambien, also fall under this category (having a valid prescription for these and other drugs does not protect you from DUI laws).
A typical DUI stop allows the suspect a chance to refuse certain tests, and a typical DUI arrest leaves room for officers to make procedural mistakes that could lead to charges being dropped or dismissed. Sobriety checkpoints are designed to lessen either from happening. Their constitutionality has been criticized and questioned, but they remain legal in Clark County, for now. If you’ve been arrested for a DUI, whether at a checkpoint or not, your best bet is to hire an experienced Las Vegas DUI attorney who can help you fight the accusation.