Sobriety checkpoints have become a common tool used by law enforcement agencies across California in raising awareness about their increased focus on enforcing DUI laws. Checkpoints also enable law enforcement officers to quickly investigate and arrest motorists they suspect are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as well as motorists who may be driving on suspended licenses, have active warrants, or are committing other crimes.
If you are driving and approach a sobriety roadblock, it’s important to understand your rights and the laws regarding DUI checkpoints in the state of California. While you have rights, it’s crucial that you understand what you can and cannot do, as well as what you should do.
- Checkpoints are legal - Under both the United States Constitution and California state law, sobriety checkpoints have been upheld as being legal because they are intended to protect public safety. In one California Supreme Court decision, it was ruled that checkpoints are exempt from Fourth Amendment provisions requiring officers to have probable cause in order to investigate drivers they suspect are under the influence. The Court ruled that, like airport screenings, checkpoints are considered administrative inspections.
- Checkpoints still have to abide by the law – Although state law gives checkpoints some leeway when it comes to probable cause, there are still regulations and laws that govern how they must be set up and conducted. For example, checkpoints must be set up in a reasonable location and are only allowed to detain motorists for a minimal period of time. Motorists must also be stopped on a neutral basis, i.e. not by profiling.
- You have the right to know about checkpoints - Federal and state law require authorities to notify the public of checkpoints in advance; you’ve likely seen these warnings in local papers, online, or even on social media. If you don’t want to go through a checkpoint, keep apprised of these postings and avoid those locations.
- What to expect – Checkpoints will slow traffic in order to stop drivers so officers can ask for their license and registration. During this time, an officer will be watching for any indications that a driver may be impaired, including the scent of alcohol, difficulty with speech, visible paraphernalia, and other signs. Depending on their initial assessment, officers may request that you pull over and perform field sobriety tests (which you are allowed to refuse) and / or take a preliminary breath test.
- Police have to play by the rules – Remember, police have rules to abide by and you have rights to exercise. If it can be shown that police committed errors that violated the law – such as not clearly showing the official nature of the checkpoint, or detaining drivers for an unreasonably long time without sufficient grounds – they can jeopardize a case should charges be filed against you.
- You can turn around, if you can do so safely – No laws prevent you from turning around to avoid a sobriety checkpoint. If you spot a DUI checkpoint in advance and can safely choose another route, you are able to do so. While officers are typically prohibited from pulling drivers over for the sole reason of turning around before a checkpoint, they can pull you over if you commit a traffic violation, such as violating a turn signal, crossing double solid lines, show signs of intoxication (weaving), or have a visible defect like a broken light on your car.
- Refuse at your own risk – California law makes it mandatory for motorists to comply with DUI checkpoints. You may have seen videos of people “flexing their rights,” by refusing to speak to officers at checkpoints. Do this at your own risk, as you can potentially face an infraction for not complying, or worse if things escalate.
Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP has represented numerous clients throughout Los Angeles and the surrounding counties of California after they were arrested for DUI at sobriety checkpoints. We know what to look for when determining if checkpoints were set up and conducted appropriately, and if the basis for an officer’s arrest was constitutional. If it was not, it could result in the inadmissibility of key evidence, and potentially dropped or reduced charges. Our team also represents clients during DMV hearings to protect their driving privileges.
If you or a loved one have been arrested at a DUI checkpoint, do not wait to call an experienced criminal defense attorney. Speak with a lawyer from our firm by contacting us today.