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DUI Sobriety Checkpoints

What is the Proper Purpose of a DUI Sobriety Checkpoint?

California DUI sobriety checkpoints are popular with local police departments across the state because it allows them to make multiple arrests in a short period for alleged violations of Vehicle Code 23152 VC.

However, these DUI checkpoints have been the target of heated debates because this legal process is outside the standard conduct rules for arresting suspected drunk drivers.

DUI Sobriety Checkpoint in California
Law enforcement officers are is required to follow specific rules at DUI sobriety checkpoints in California.

For instance, police officers are usually required to have sufficient probable cause to pull someone over during a traffic stop rather than a completely random selection of all car drivers on the road. Under the law, DUI sobriety checkpoint laws let law enforcement officers pull over anyone who is just driving through a specific area even when they have not violated any law.

However, to legally pull over drivers in this way, police must follow specific rules. If they fail to adhere to every DUI checkpoint rule, your constitutional rights could have been violated.

Police officers will typically use roadside sobriety checkpoints to stop all vehicles driving through the area or every fourth, eighth, or another random number of vehicles to check for a driver for impairment and ability to operate a car safely.

The primary purpose of sobriety checkpoints in California is to deter drunk driving and reduce DUI crashes and injuries. Driving under the influence at sobriety checkpoints is frequently controversial for improper profiling and alleged harassment of innocent drivers who happen to be driving through a specific location.

There are often accusations of police abusing someone's legal rights. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will review this topic further below.

Are DUI Sobriety Checkpoints Legal?

All people in the United States have Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Further, people in California are protected by the state's constitution that requires state and local police to have reasonable suspicion that someone violated the law before being pulled over on a traffic stop.  

A typical DUI stop and investigation occurs when a police officer observes the driver of a vehicle on a public road violating a law, such as speeding or driving without headlights. Sobriety checkpoints, however, go well beyond these traditional driving under the influence routines.

Both the United States Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court ruled that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional as “administrative inspections.” This is similar to TSA inspections of air travelers at an airport that addresses public health and safety according to non-burdensome practices.

As such, California permits sobriety checkpoints as long as they are conducted adequately without violating anyone's constitutional rights.

Why are DUI Checkpoints a Preferred Method by Police?

As noted above, law enforcement prefers DUI sobriety checkpoints because they believe it effectively acts as a deterrent to drunk driving.

Just like airport security can search your luggage without a warrant to ensure public safety, DUI roadblocks allow them to check for signs of intoxication without probable cause to ensure public safety.

Sobriety checkpoints have been challenged in court like the infamous case of Ingersoll v. Palmer, where the court ruled this procedure is legal if they follow specific rules, like:  

  • Vehicle drivers can't be detained longer than necessary;
  • Criteria for stopping car drivers must be unbiased;
  • Supervising officers must be present for all constitutional decisions.

This landmark case set numerous rules and regulations that have to be followed, or the DUI sobriety checkpoint could be deemed unlawful.

What is the Proper Operation of a DUI Checkpoint?

Police officers at the scene of a DUI roadblock have to follow the guidelines set by the California Supreme Court, which has established several requirements for a proper police operation, such as the following:

  • Police supervisors must control the operation of a checkpoint;
  • Stopping motorist has to be conducted neutrally;
  • Profiling motorists in any way is prohibited;
  • Location of the checkpoint must be reasonably chosen for traffic issues;
  • Safety precautions must be adequately taken to protect drivers;
  • Good judgment must be followed for checkpoint time and duration;
  • Checkpoint has to be identified as an official in nature;
  • Drivers can only be detained for a minimum period; and
  • DUI roadblock has to be publicly advertised in advance.

Law enforcement can choose a weekend day during evening hours and a section of the highway known to have many drunk drivers.  They will direct traffic into limited lanes and bring the car to a stop.

Proper Operation of a DUI Checkpoint
At DUI checkpoints, stopping motorist must be random and they can only be detained for a minimum time.

Drivers must open the car window, show their driver's license and insurance, and have a brief conversation with the police officer. Police officers at the DUI roadblock can only detain people longer if they have probable cause to believe they are driving under the influence.

For example, they might smell alcohol on the driver, have slurred speech or other signs of impairment, or have alcohol or drugs in plain sight within the vehicle.

If reasonable suspicion exists, police can request the driver perform field sobriety tests or take a preliminary alcohol screening test.

You have the legal right to bypass a checkpoint if you don't violate any traffic laws or create a traffic hazard. You should review police press releases and local news sites to determine when police are setting up a roadblock in advance.

Police agencies usually provide sufficient warning to allow drivers to avoid a checkpoint, and departmental rules often prohibit officers from stopping vehicles because they intentionally avoided the checkpoint.

Are Drivers Required to Stop at a DUI Checkpoint?

Yes. California Vehicle Code 2814.2 VC requires all vehicle drivers to stop at adequately marked checkpoints:

  • “A motor vehicle driver shall stop and submit to a sobriety checkpoint inspection conducted by a law enforcement agency when signs and displays are posted that require them to stop.”

According to Vehicle Code 12951 VC and other laws, car drivers must present their driver's license and registration at an officer's request. According to Vehicle Code 2814.2 VC, police officers can't impound the vehicle of a driver who cannot present a valid driver's license if they can identify an owner to release the car.  

If you are stopped at a sobriety checkpoint, it would be wise to remain calm and follow the directions from the police officer. Being a jerk and uncooperative will not generally end well.  

If you fail to follow the laws, you could be facing criminal charges of evading or fleeing from police, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, or other crimes. You are NOT required to answer questions beyond basic identifying information and show your driver's license and registration.

How Can I Fight DUI Charges from Sobriety Checkpoint?

Anyone who was charged with DUI associated with California sobriety checkpoints could present several defenses based on the details of the case, such as the following:

  • checkpoint was inadequately marked;
  • police didn't remain neutral in who they stopped,
  • unlawful police stop
  • field sobriety tests were improperly administered.

Numerous defense strategies can challenge a DUI arrest, such as police not following the required rules, improper calibration of test equipment, and inaccurate measurement and reporting results.

Fighting DUI Charges from a Sobriety Checkpoint
If you are charged with DUI at a sobriety checkpoint, there are numerous common defense strategies.

We might also argue there was a lack of reasonable suspicion to require testing in the first place. Any driver arrested at a DUI sobriety checkpoint in California might be able to challenge the arrest on constitutional grounds.

If. the police don't follow all the required rules discussed above, it may be possible to have your entire DUI case dismissed.

Further, through prefiling negotiations with the prosecutor, we might be able to persuade them not to file formal charges.

Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles County, and you can reach our office for an initial consultation at (877) 781-1570 or fill out our contact form.

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