The Fourth Amendment rule protects individuals from illegal search and seizure. It also requires police to have reasonable or probable cause before stopping and detaining an individual. With that in mind, DUI or Sobriety checkpoints might be a violation of the United States and the California constitution. However, sobriety checkpoints are still valid in California, and you will find them as roadblocks. They help police to stop motorists without probable cause, but the court requires them to be conducted correctly and according to the law. With our guidance at the Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer, you will understand the validity of DUI checkpoints, the consequences of avoiding them, elements that might lead to an arrest at a checkpoint, what to do if you are detained at a sobriety checkpoint, and how checkpoints can be used as a defense in DUI charges.

The Validity of DUI Checkpoints

Under California laws, DUI checkpoints are legal. They allow law enforcement officers to erect roadblocks where they can detain motorists for a short time to establish if they are driving under the influence or not. These checkpoints are an exception to the Fourth Amendment rule. However, they must adhere to specific guidelines; otherwise, individuals arrested at these points might challenge their legality.

Things That Can Lead to an Arrest at a DUI Checkpoint

When you approach a sobriety checkpoint, you will find a roadblock blocking a section of the road. Cars are forced to merge into one lane, which allows police officers to stop the vehicles and engage the drivers. After being stopped, there are certain things the officers will be looking for, including a driver’s license and registration. If you don’t have these documents, you will be detained or arrested.

You can also be arrested at a sobriety checkpoint if:

  • You have trouble answering questions being asked by the law enforcement officers
  • Your breath has alcohol odor
  • You gaffe when reaching out for registration and your driver’s license
  • You are found in possession of alcoholic beverages, drugs, or tools used in taking narcotics in your vehicle
  • You portray the signs and symptoms of impairment

If an individual demonstrates any signs of impairment, the law enforcement officers can start the preliminary DUI investigation. They start by requesting the driver to submit a mouth or cheek swab test for drugs, perform FSTs, or a preliminary alcohol screening test (PAS).

These tests are the ones that give the police officer a reasonable suspicion to make an arrest. They enable officers to know if you are DUI of alcohol or drugs and if BAC levels are .08% or higher.

Factors that Determine the Legality of a DUI Checkpoints

If you are arrested at a sobriety checkpoint, there is nothing unconstitutional or illegal about it. However, the legal requirements for setting up these roadblocks must adhere to the law. Failure to do so, a reasonable DUI defense attorney will look for reasons to prove the checkpoints are not satisfied, thus being able to have the charges against a defendant dropped.

There was much confusion between which DUI checkpoints are valid and those that are illegal. However, after a ruling by the California Supreme Court in the case of Ingersoll v. Palmer, clear functional guidelines were set by the court to determine the legality of a DUI checkpoint. Below are the eight steps that must be followed to conduct a legal DUI Checkpoint:

  1. Any decision-making must be made at the supervisory level

    Administrative officers should make all legal and operational decisions such as the date for the checkpoint, location of the site, and how to pick cars to be detained before the checkpoint is established. Field officers or those on the ground should not make such decisions to avoid unconstitutional profiling of drivers based on their race or country of origin, which might reduce arbitrary enforcement.   

  2. The basis for stopping motorists must be impartial and neutral

    The supervisors or administrative officers are also supposed to decide on how and what cars are going to be stopped before establishing the checkpoint. Such a decision should not be at the discretion of field officers. If guidelines come from superior officers to stop vehicles in a neutral predetermined way like allowing three cars to pass and preventing the next two, then the rule will apply equally instead of targeting a particular model of vehicles.

  3. The location of the DUI checkpoint must be reasonable and established by the policymakers

    The checkpoint must be reasonably situated. The best site is where many cases of drunk driving or alcohol or drug-related accidents have been reported. Setting a roadblock at such a place will help in reducing cases of driving under the influence.

  4. Safety measures must be put in place

    When picking a checkpoint location, administrative officers must have the safety of the public and that of the police officers in mind. There is a need to implement safety precautions for the motorists to identify the checkpoint, stop, and navigate through it quickly and safely while still allowing the flow of traffic. Making the checkpoint visible to drivers is one of the safety precautions that can be taken. Other precautions include evaluating traffic patterns and street layout. That way, if the officers start experiencing heavy traffic that they cannot manage, then they can adopt another more effective way of stopping vehicles, thus avoiding heavy traffic.

  5. Time and length of the checkpoint must be reasonable enough to be active and not intrusive

    Administrative officers must come up with a reasonable time on the duration of the checkpoint. Effectiveness when deciding the time and how long motorists should be detained must not inconvenience motorists. Therefore, it is up to the supervisors to set time that reflects good judgment. Setting a specific time limit for each driver is not going to be very useful and not cause interruption.

  6. Signage must be available at the DUI checkpoint

    As motorists approach a sobriety checkpoint, they should be seeing signs like warning lights, marked police cars, police officers in uniform, and flashing lights. If a motorist or driver can identify a checkpoint from far, then there will be no element of surprise or fear when they are asked to stop. That way, motorists will not suddenly try to avoid the checkpoint unsafely, which can result in accidents.  

  7. Drivers should not be detained longer than necessary

    After being stopped at a DUI roadblock, the officers are not allowed to hold you for a long time. Police officers are supposed to look for signs of intoxication within the shortest time possible. These signs include:

    • Odor or smell of alcohol
    • Slurred speech
    • Glassy eyes
    • Dazed appearance

    If no signs are found after asking questions and conducting an examination, you should be allowed to leave. However, if you portray any signs of intoxication, you will be detained longer than necessary.

  8. The DUI roadblocks must be publicly advertised in advance

    DUI roadblocks must be advertised first before they are set up to create awareness to the public. Lack of advertisement, however, is not going to make sobriety checkpoints illegal. Law enforcers give a notice a week in advance so that drivers can avoid arrests and fines by not drinking and driving in these locations where roadblocks had been erected. Apart from helping drivers stay safe while driving by avoiding intoxication, a notice of a checkpoint will help motorists to be aware that their privacy might be invaded at a DUI roadblock, thus preventing surprises.

    Keep in mind that the above factors are not equal. Some carry more weight than others. For instance, there is no standard of where warning lights that you are approaching a DUI checkpoint should be set up as long as it is posted reasonably. Your charges will not be dismissed as long as the court purports the warning signpost reasonably appears.

    In case you are wondering where you can find these notices, then you should check the local newspapers, radios, and televisions. Law enforcement or police department sites also post notifications on sobriety checkpoints.

Avoiding a DUI Checkpoint

The law does not prohibit drivers from turning around and avoiding checkpoints as long as it is done safely and without violating any traffic laws. In case you are found violating traffic laws while avoiding a checkpoint, you will be stopped. If you have any signs of impairment or a defect like a cracked windscreen, then the police officer has reasonable suspicion to investigate further.

However, if you were not in violation of any traffic rules while avoiding the checkpoint, then even if you are charged, your DUI defense lawyer can argue that the law enforcers had no reasonable cause to stop and detain you, hence getting the charges dismissed. Also, if the officers were holding every motorist that tried to avoid the checkpoint, then your defense lawyer can argue that there were illegal search and seizure by law enforcers.

Refusal to Cooperate with the Officers at the Checkpoint

According to California VC 2814.2 (a), all motorists should stop and cooperate or submit to DUI checkpoints. So, it will be illegal not to comply with whatever instructions the police officer gives. However, you are allowed to refuse to take chemical tests because taking these tests can get you arrested.

Note that, even though refusal to take chemical tests is legal after being stopped, in case of a lawful arrest, failing to submit a chemical or blood test is illegal and can attract penalties, including a one-year license suspension. Below are some of the tests you might be asked to perform:

  1. Field sobriety tests (FSTs) at a DUI checkpoint

    No police officer will come up to you and tell you that you have a right to decline a field sobriety test. They will request you to take the tests. You should not admit to taking a field sobriety test because the chances are you are going to fail. In the middle of the day, some of the exercises the officer might ask you to perform are challenging, and the environment is controlled. At night also, there are many distractions and agreeing to a field sobriety test at a time like that is admitting you are driving under the influence because you are likely to fail the tests. Therefore, it is a rule of thumb to refuse to take FSTs when requested.

  2. Breath tests at a DUI checkpoint 

    Implied consent laws have brought much confusion when it comes to DUI checkpoints. The reason being the majority of the people are not able to exercise their rights. It is when you are under arrest that you must submit samples for testing. If you are not under arrest, avoid the breath test entirely because they might have errors, thus displaying a higher blood alcohol concentration than the actual one. Aside from this, keep off anything else that might be incriminating, such as answering questions no matter how innocent they seem because you might find yourself behind bars. 

Driving Without a License at a DUI Checkpoint

There are two instances where you can be detained for driving at a DUI checkpoint without a driver’s license. These instances include:

  • If you have a valid driver’s license but you don’t have it with you at the time of stoppage, or
  • If you don’t have a valid driver’s license at all.

When you are found driving without a license, you will be charged with California infraction. Often, drivers who don’t have a license with them are charged with violation of VC 12951, which is a failure to display a driver’s license. If you have a valid license and it happens that at the time of arrest you forgot to take it with you, then your charges will be dismissed once you avail the legitimate license.

It will be a more serious offense to drive with an invalid license. An invalid driver’s license is one that has been revoked or suspended. You will be charged with driving without a license or driving on a suspended license. If this is your first charge or if the owner of the car assigns it to a licensed driver after a checkpoint, then the vehicle will not be impounded at the sobriety checkpoint.

In 2012, California Vehicle Code 2814.2 was enacted to prohibit police officers from impounding cars of drivers who have been arrested for driving without a license at a DUI roadblock. This was not the case before 2012 because law enforcers had the right to impound vehicles whose drivers had no licenses. The advantage of the enactment of Bill 353 is that it reduced violation of the Fourth Amendment rule and targeting of illegal immigrants who were not allowed to have a driver’s license at that time.

Learning about DUI Checkpoints

Law enforcement departments use advance publicity to notify motorists about a DUI roadblock. By checking their websites and local TV news, you can learn about these checkpoints. If you don’t want to look for this information on these channels, you can opt for traffic data apps that will warn you about an upcoming sobriety checkpoint. However, keep in mind that not all apps are reliable. Stick to those that are up to date with the state laws on DUI roadblocks. Traffic data apps like WAZE are not being encouraged a lot because of promoting drunk driving by enabling them to avoid sobriety checkpoints.   

Challenges that can be made to a DUI Checkpoint

At a DUI checkpoint, officers stop you and begin to ask questions and observe your behavior. They commence DUI investigations if you fail the chemical tests, breath tests, and the field sobriety tests. If you are arrested and charged with driving under the influence, the prosecution team will be required to provide evidence that shows beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of DUI at a sobriety checkpoint.

With an excellent attorney, you can use the following defenses to fight these charges:

    1. Failure by the field officers to comply with predetermined techniques of stopping cars

      The first defense you can use is arguing that you were stopped at random and not according to the impartial and neutral guidelines laid by the administrators regarding how vehicles should be stopped. Your DUI defense lawyer can prove to the court that the field officers at the scene failed to comply with predetermined criteria of stopping vehicles. That way, you can verify the DUI roadblock was unable to meet constitutional requirements.

    2. Contradicting arresting officer’s testimony using witnesses at the checkpoint

      The prosecution will call their witness, who is the arresting officer at the DUI checkpoint to say what they saw. Your attorney should counter this move by calling witnesses who were at the scene, such as a passenger of the car whose driver was arrested to testify something contrary to that of the officer.

    3. Unconstitutional profiling

      Valid checkpoints should not have capricious enforcement. If a lawyer can prove that there was a reduced or lack of arbitrary enforcement during stopping, then the charges will be dismissed. The court must be informed of the identities of the car occupants at the time it was stopped at the checkpoint. In case these occupants of the vehicle or most of the defendants arrested at the checkpoint can be singled out by their race, ethnicity, nation of origin, or appearance, then the attorney can argue those are the traits used to detain the defendant. A case like that will, therefore, be dropped.

    4. Lack of probable cause to detain the defendant

      The arresting officer must have reasonable suspicion to detain the driver. If there is no reasonable cause, then the charges will be reduced or dismissed. An intelligent DUI lawyer will challenge the accuracy of the observations made by the police officer, such as the smell of alcohol and slurred speech to prove that the officer had no reasonable suspicion to detain the defendant.

    5. No advance notice is given to the public about the checkpoint 

      The public should be notified in advance through an announcement that there will be a sobriety checkpoint in a particular location at a specific date. It should be done at least one week before the checkpoint. If there was no advance notice given to the public, then even if you are arrested for DUI at this roadblock, the charges are likely to be reduced or dismissed.

    6. The defendant was detained while avoiding the checkpoint safely and legally

      Motorists are allowed by the law to prevent DUI roadblocks when they come across them, but it should be done carefully and lawfully. It means you should not break any traffic rules while avoiding the checkpoints. If the defendant was avoiding the checkpoints safely and legally but still went ahead to be detained, then the charges against him or her should be dropped.

      Remember that it is not easy to challenge a DUI checkpoint stop. That is why you should go the extra mile whenever facing these charges to get a lawyer who will mount a vigorous defense to show that the legal procedures were not adhered to in setting up the checkpoint. That way, all the evidence collected in that scene will not be admissible in court. Proving that the right procedures were not used to detain and that the detention was extended are also good defenses.

What to do When You are Stopped at a DUI Checkpoint

Specific tips help you when you are stopped at a checkpoint. They include:

      • Keep calm and collected
      • Avoid self-incrimination by not giving more information than the police officer needs
      • Do not agree to a car search
      • You have the right to refuse to take field sobriety tests

With the above tips, it’s easy to avoid being detained or arrested in DUI checkpoints.

Find a DUI Defense Lawyer Near Me

Understanding the rules and regulations of the DUI checkpoints is a critical element in fighting driving under the influence charges. At the Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer, we have been dealing with DUI defense for many years; hence, we will act aggressively against the charges you are facing so that you have reduced charges or a dismissed case if you are arrested for DUI at a DUI checkpoint. Call 714-820-9592 to talk to us.