Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in California?
The answer to the question of “Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in California?” is, simply, yes.
According to California’s Vehicle Code, “A driver of a motor vehicle shall stop and submit to a sobriety checkpoint inspection conducted by a law enforcement agency when signs and displays are posted requiring that stop.”
As simple of an answer as “yes” may be, it becomes slightly complicated when the legal guidelines and procedures of a DUI checkpoint, otherwise known as a “sobriety checkpoint,” must be considered.
At The Law Office of Amy Chapman, we understand the importance of knowing your rights in any situation, especially on the road. Because of this, we’ve outlined important details and answered common questions you may have about DUI checkpoints in order to ensure that the law is being followed by all parties involved.
How Will I Know When and Where a DUI Checkpoint Is?
Learning about a DUI checkpoint in the digital age is easier than ever, and official releases from law enforcement agencies often outline when and where sobriety roadblocks will occur. While advance public notice of upcoming checkpoints is not required, posting adequate notice of roadblocks as they are occurring is.
In short, this means that you may not find out about a DUI checkpoint until you come upon it on the road. Police department websites, local newspapers and news websites, and local TV news stations are often your best source to finding out about DUI checkpoints prior to driving.
What Should I Expect at a DUI Checkpoint?
In general, a DUI checkpoint consists of a brief discussion with an officer to determine if you are driving while intoxicated. The interaction typically begins with rolling down the window and being asked for your driver’s license and registration.
More specifically, the officer conducting the test will be looking to see:
- If you fumble or have trouble providing your license and registration;
- If you smell like alcohol;
- If you have trouble or hesitate in answering the officer’s questions;
- If there are any alcoholic beverages, drugs or paraphernalia in the vehicle; or
- If you exhibit slurred speech, red/watery eyes, or any other sign of physical impairment.
If a driver exhibits signs of impairment, further investigation may ensue as a result. This can lead to being required to perform a California DUI field sobriety test (FST) or a Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) breathalyzer test.
Based on the results from these tests, you may be arrested if there is probable cause that you are:
- Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC) ;
- Driving with a BAC of .08 or greater (Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC); or
- Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) (Vehicle Code 23152(e) VC).
Can I Legally Avoid or Refuse a DUI Checkpoint?
It is possible to avoid a DUI Checkpoint entirely by turning around and/or taking a different route—provided it is done so in a safe and legal manner. Legal DUI Checkpoints are required to post sufficient warning to drivers regarding lane closures due to DUI checkpoints, allowing drivers to bypass them altogether should they chose.
Normal traffic laws must still be obeyed when circumventing a DUI checkpoint, and you are still liable to being pulled over if you commit a traffic violation, have a vehicular defect (i.e. a broken headlight), or display signs of obvious intoxicated driving.
Once you are at a checkpoint, however, Vehicle Code 28.14.2(a) VC requires that all drivers stop and submit to these checkpoints. Refusing to comply with the officer’s instructions will likely lead to an infraction.
DUI Checkpoints and the Fourth Amendment
As part of our Bill of Rights, the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution states that individuals are protected against “unreasonable searches and seizures” of property by the government. In contemporary times, this amendment has expanded to protect individuals from stop-and-frisk searches, wiretaps and other forms of surveillance without probable cause.
Some have argued that certain discriminatory checkpoint practices can constitute a search without reason. Therefore, interpretation of the Fourth Amendment becomes complicated when the implications of a DUI checkpoint are brought into question.
In general, the legal requirements for California DUI checkpoints (in compliance with both the US Constitution and the California Constitution) are:
- Supervising officers must make all operational decisions;
- The criteria for stopping motorists must be neutral (i.e. non-discriminatory);
- The checkpoint must be reasonably located;
- Adequate safety precautions must be taken;
- The checkpoint’s time and duration should reflect “good judgment”;
- The checkpoint must exhibit sufficient indicia (such as proper signage) of its official nature;
- Drivers should be detained for a minimal amount of time; and
- Roadblocks should be publicly advertised in advance.
I Believe I Encountered an Illegal DUI Checkpoint, or Was Wrongfully Charged. Now What?
Should a DUI checkpoint fail to meet Federal or State Constitutional guidelines, utilize discriminatory practices in stopping vehicles/drivers, or should investigations be conducted in an unsafe or unreasonable manner, then they may be considered illegal (and possibly, a violation of the Fourth Amendment). As a driver, you have the right to challenge the legality of a DUI checkpoint in court.
There are times where lines are crossed and harsh sentences are made, leading to legal concerns over a tarnished driving record should these charges not be dismissed.
Your safety and wellbeing are our number one concern.