What Are My Rights at a DUI Checkpoint in California?

In a previous blog post, we talked about your rights before you pull up to a DUI checkpoint in California. As explained there, DUI sobriety checkpoints are considered constitutional in California — 11 states consider them unconstitutional under state or federal law — and you are required to submit to legally positioned and maintained sobriety checkpoints, unless you can safely and legally change your driving path to avoid the checkpoint. (For more information on the procedures and requirements that must be met by a police checkpoint in order for them to withstand a legal challenge, please see the post titled “What are my rights before I pull up to a DUI checkpoint?”)

Assuming the checkpoint is legally positioned and operated, however, you will want to be aware of what your rights are during the DUI checkpoint process itself.

While sobriety checkpoints are permitted under California Vehicle Code 2814.2 VC, they must still be conducted in accordance with your state and federal constitutional rights, specifically your Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

In California, police at sobriety checkpoints are required to minimize the average time each driver is detained. The police may only detain a motorist at checkpoint long enough for the officer to question the driver briefly and to look for signs of intoxication, which can include:

· Alcohol on the driver’s breath
· Slurred speech
· Glassy or bloodshot eyes

If an officer does not detect these signs or any other signs of impairment, then the officer must allow the driver to drive off without further delay. If the officer does, however, detect signs of impairment, then the officer may lawfully direct the driver to a separate area for a roadside sobriety test.

If the driver fails the roadside sobriety test, this will provide probable cause for the officer to arrest and detain the driver for a DUI. If the driver is arrested, the officer is able to search the driver’s body to make sure that he or she is not carrying a weapon or evidence related to the crime (e.g., a flask) that might otherwise be destroyed.

The arresting officer may also be able to search the passenger compartment of the driver’s car under one of two circumstances:

1) If the driver, when arrested, is within arms-length distance of the passenger compartment such that he might reach for a weapon or evidence

2) If the officer suspects there might be evidence in the passenger compartment related to the DUI offense, e.g., alcoholic beverage bottles.

The officer cannot search the trunk or other compartments of the car unless the officer has “probable cause” to believe that there is evidence of criminal activity in the other compartments. An officer will often try to get a driver to give consent to a search of the driver and/or the car, and giving consent will provide the officer with grounds to legally search those places. You are not required to give consent to the officer to conduct a search, however, and you are generally advised not to surrender your right against searches to the police.

If you are arrested at a DUI checkpoint, you have a right to speak with an attorney at any time and are not required to provide self-incriminating information to the police. While the officer may want you to think that speaking with a lawyer reflects badly on you, it is your constitutional right to have a lawyer present who can apprise you of all of your rights under the law. If you have been arrested for a DUI or if you would like further advice regarding DUIs or DUI checkpoints in California, do not hesitate to call the law offices of Gastelum and Associates.