Sobriety checkpoints are an exception to the rule that law enforcement officers must have probable cause to pull someone over. Probable cause for a traffic stop refers to:
- A defect in the vehicle that could affect safety of self or others,
- Moving or traffic violations, or
- Driving in a way that indicates that the driver might be driving under the influence.
The courts have upheld sobriety checkpoints as legal to act as a deterrent to driving under the influence and to identify those who are drunk driving1. These types of checkpoints pass constitutional scrutiny the California Constitution because the California Supreme Court considers them administrative procedures, rather like an airport security check, and therefore an exception to the rule that a law enforcement officer must have probable cause to initiate a traffic stop2.
Legality of Checkpoints
The landmark case in California regarding the legality of sobriety checkpoints is Ingersoll v. Palmer. This case sets out the following eight guidelines in order for the security checkpoint to be considered constitutional:
- Supervising officers must make all constitutional decisions,
- The criteria for stopping motorists must be neutral,
- The sobriety 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 of its official nature,
- Drivers should be detained a minimal amount of time, and
- DUI roadblocks should be publically advertised in advance3.
Analysing Your Appearance
At a sobriety checkpoint the law enforcement officer will ask the driver for his license and registration. After the officer validates your license and registration, he will ask you some brief questions to check for signs of being under the influence, which include the following:
- Smell of alcohol,
- Alcohol in your vehicle,
- Slurred speech,
- Red or watery eyes, and other signs of physical impairment.
If you display signs of driving under the influence, the officer will then ask you to perform field sobriety tests and likely a request for a preliminary alcohol screen (PAS). If after the field sobriety tests, the law enforcement officer has reasonable suspicion that you were driving under the influence he will place you under arrest.
DUI Checkpoint FAQs
1. Can I Avoid a DUI Checkpoint?
There are no rules against avoiding a DUI checkpoint and usually there is enough notice on the road to allow you to do so. If you can find another route around the sobriety checkpoint without committing traffic or moving violations, you are free to do so. Law enforcement officers are not permitted to pull you over on the sole basis that you turned around to avoid the checkpoint. However, remember that if you commit a moving violation while avoiding the checkpoint an officer can pull you over.
2. What Happens If I Am Driving Without a Valid License When I Stop at a DUI Checkpoint?
If you are currently driving without a valid drivers’ license, you may be charged with driving without a valid license or driving on a suspended license even though the checkpoint is for driving under the influence. However, as long as a driver with a valid license can drive the car away by the end of the checkpoint, your car cannot be impounded for having no valid license alone.4
3. Is There Somewhere I Can Find Out Where Future Sobriety Checkpoints Will be Located?
Yes. One of the eight guidelines for a proper sobriety checkpoint is that they have to be publicly advertised in advance. Usually you can find this information on law enforcement websites, advertisements, local newspapers, local news stations, and more recently on phone apps.
4. What Is the Purpose Behind Sobriety Checkpoints?
The reasoning behind sobriety checkpoints is to reduce the number of alcohol related deaths, injuries or suffering by deterring drunk drivers from getting in their car after consuming alcoholic beverages. Simply knowing that a checkpoint could be set up deters drinking and driving
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Spotting Potential Issues
Police Mistakes – Sometimes it is possible to get your DUI charges reduced or dismissed based on a strong argument in defense that the law enforcement officer made an error in the lawful procedure of a DUI stop or sobriety checkpoint. The procedures in California are very strict and there is always a possibility of using law enforcement error as a dui defense.
No Probable Cause – In general, law enforcement officers need probable cause in order to pull you over. However, in the case of a sobriety checkpoint, they need no probable cause because it is an administrative procedure.
Gerd or Acid Reflux – If you have gastro intestinal reflux disease and you had an episode of gerd prior to taking a breath test through a preliminary alcohol screening device than your blood alcohol concentration may have been falsely high.
Hiring An Attorney
Law enforcement officers are required to follow very strict rules at a sobriety checkpoint. If you are arrested at a DUI checkpoint, it may be possible for an attorney to get the charges dismissed if the law enforcement officers did not follow these rules. Sobriety checkpoints are legal in nature but the specific checkpoint that you were arrested at may have some flaws that will be enough of a defense to get your charges dropped.
If you need to speak to an attorney about your DUI case, please call our office at: (818) 351-9555.