What are my rights before I pull up to a DUI checkpoint?

Why are there DUI or Sobriety Checkpoints?

The California Highway Patrol is authorized to conduct sobriety checkpoint inspections under California Vehicle Code 2814.2 VC. The purpose of the checkpoints is to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the state’s highways, and thereby diminish the pain, suffering and death that result from drunken driving accidents.

The biggest conflict with this type of inspection is that it is an exception to the normal rules the police must follow for any other type of inspection. Normally, police must have probable cause to stop and question a motorist. This means observing either (a) a traffic violation, (b) a defect in the vehicle that could affect safety, or (c) driving patterns indicating that the driver may be intoxicated. Even though sobriety checkpoints do not require probable cause for a vehicle inspection, courts have upheld the power of law enforcement to conduct systematic traffic stops at checkpoints to identify and deter driving under the influence.

Can I turn off the road to avoid a DUI checkpoint?

Although it is perfectly legal to avoid a DUI checkpoint by changing your route, normal traffic rules still apply. Therefore, if you attract the attention of the police by committing a traffic violation or driving in a manner that seems to display signs of intoxication, they can, and most likely will, pull you over and inspect you and your vehicle.

How can I protect myself?

What you can do is arm yourself with the eight criteria that must be met at a sobriety checkpoint, so that you know your rights. The eight criteria are:

  1.  Supervising officers, not field officers, must make all operational decisions about where, how, and when California sobriety checkpoints will operate.
  2.  The criteria for stopping motorists must be neutral. Supervising officers must determine ahead of time which cars are to be stopped and the determination must be made using “neutral mathematical selection criteria.” Examples are stopping every third car, five consecutive cars out of every ten, etc.
  3.  The checkpoint must be reasonably located in a location where there is a high frequency of DUI-related accidents or arrests.
  4.    Adequate safety precautions must be taken by the supervising officer, such as maintaining traffic patterns, assessing street layout, and making the roadblock clearly visible to approaching drivers.
  5.    The checkpoint’s time and duration should reflect “good judgment.” The effectiveness of the checkpoint must be weighed against the intrusiveness to drivers.
  6.    The checkpoint must be clearly visible and convey the official nature of the DUI stop. Items like warning signs, flashing lights, marked police cars and the presence of uniformed police officers are indicators of the official nature of the sobriety checkpoint.
  7. Drivers should only be detained for the minimal amount of time required for the check. This means the officer can only question the driver briefly and quickly look for signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech or glassy/bloodshot eyes. A driver who shows no signs of impairment should be permitted to drive on without further delay.
  8.    Roadblocks should be publicly advertised in advance. Most commonly, the notices are placed on law enforcement websites, in local newspapers and broadcast through local news stations. However, lack of advance publicity does not, by itself, make a sobriety checkpoint unconstitutional.

Failure of the police to comply with these procedures opens a sobriety checkpoint to legal challenge. If you think you have been subjected to an illegal sobriety checkpoint, contact the experienced DUI attorneys at Gastelum Law today!