Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is illegal in California. Law enforcement often sets driver “spot checks” or checkpoints to catch those driving while drunk or high and to deter drivers from operating vehicles while impaired. It is important for all drivers to know their rights should they be stopped at a DUI checkpoint.
If you are stopped and arrested for DUI at a checkpoint, call a DUI lawyer from Simmrin Law Group for expert legal protection and representation.
What Is a DUI Checkpoint?
DUI checkpoints are police traffic stops used to determine a driver’s sobriety or impairment. Law enforcement sets up roadblocks on days and times when high rates of drunk driving are anticipated, such as holidays, weekends, and very early morning hours. Portions of a road are blocked off, and drivers typically have to merge into one or two lanes and come to a stop if directed by on-site officers.
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Does Every Driver Get Stopped at a DUI Checkpoint?
On-site officers will not stop every single car at a DUI checkpoint. Supervising officers must devise a mathematical, neutral stop strategy before the checkpoint is set up, for example, instructing officers to stop every third or fifth car. The strategy cannot be based on the car make, model, or color, or based on drivers’ characteristics, such as age, race, or ethnicity.
Field officers cannot change or deviate from the strategy spur-of-the-moment.
What Happens at a DUI Checkpoint?
If stopped, an officer will ask you to lower your window and produce your license and registration. The officer will also look for evidence of alcohol or drug paraphernalia in your vehicle and observe your behavior for signs of impairment.
You may be subjected to further investigation if you:
- Slur your words
- Have red, watery eyes
- Fumble when retrieving the requested documents
- Struggle to respond to the officer’s questions
- Have alcohol containers or drug paraphernalia in your vehicle
- Smell of alcohol or marijuana
What Happens When an Officer Suspects Impairment DUI During a Checkpoint Stop?
After stopping you, if an officer suspects impairment, you can expect to undergo any or all of the following assessments:
- Mouth Swab Test (MST) to determine the presence of alcohol or drugs in your system
- Field Sobriety Test (FST) during which the officer will assess your “horizontal gaze,” ability to walk a straight line, and balance
- Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) breath test to measure your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
If test results indicate impairment, officers will charge you with a DUI offense.
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Are DUI Checkpoints Legal?
The Constitutions of the United States and the State of California uphold the legality of DUI checkpoints. According to the California Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1987 Ingersoll v. Palmer case, checkpoints are on par with airport safety screenings and, therefore, exceptions to the fourth amendment rule stating officers must have “probable cause” or “reasonable suspicion” before conducting a DUI assessment.
Do DUI Checkpoints Have to Follow Certain Rules?
To ensure safety and fairness, law enforcement must abide by rules and regulations when setting up and carryout out DUI checkpoints.
With its ruling in Ingersoll v. Palmer, the California Supreme Court also established eight rules law enforcement must follow when creating and implementing DUI checkpoints. The rules are intended to ensure the safety and fair treatment of all drivers. DUI checkpoint rules in California include:
- Supervising officers are responsible for making all operational decisions, including the “when,” “how,” and “where” of each checkpoint. On-site officers cannot change the pre-determined strategy for stopping cars or assessing impairment.
- Determining which cars to stop must be based on a neutral, mathematical premise only.
- Checkpoint locations must be reasonable. Supervisors must make these determinations based on data showing where high rates of DUI accidents occur.
- Checkpoints must be carried out safely. Supervising officers must consider traffic patterns and checkpoint visibility, among other factors, to ensure the safety of all on the road.
- The time and length of the DUI checkpoint must show “good judgment” by supervising officers who must weigh the overall effectiveness of the checkpoint against the intrusion upon drivers.
- The “official” nature of the DUI checkpoint must be clear. Warning signs, marked police cars with flashing lights, and/or other measures must give drivers ample warning of the checkpoint so law-abiding drivers are not surprised or made unnecessarily afraid.
- Stops must be carried out efficiently so drivers are stopped for a minimal amount of time. Officers must have probable cause, based on this initial stop, to detain drivers further.
- Law enforcement should advertise checkpoints in advance. However, a lack of prior notice or publicity is not enough to deem a checkpoint unconstitutional. Law enforcement is encouraged to post notices on its websites and through local news sources.
Should you be facing DUI charges following a DUI checkpoint stop, call an experienced California DUI attorney immediately. Your lawyer will thoroughly investigate the checkpoint, from its time and location to the procedures implemented, and hold law enforcement accountable for following legal regulations.
Can Drivers Turn Around to Avoid a DUI Checkpoint?
It is not illegal to turn around or make a U-turn to avoid a DUI checkpoint as long as that traffic maneuver itself is safe and legal. If you commit a traffic violation while turning away, perhaps the U-turn is illegal, or you have a broken taillight, officers can pull you over, and if you show signs of impairment, they can carry out checkpoint procedures.
Can a Driver Refuse to Cooperate at a DUI Checkpoint?
If you are stopped at a checkpoint, VC 2814.2(a) makes it illegal for you to refuse to comply with the officers’ instructions, such as providing your license and registration.
You have the right, however, to refuse to submit to the MST, FST, or PAS breath tests. Keep in mind that despite these refusals, you can still be charged with DUI if the officer observes signs of impairment or finds alcohol or drugs in your vehicle.
Let a Skilled DUI Lawyer Manage the Fallout of a DUI Checkpoint Stop
Convictions for DUI charges will bring significant consequences affecting your time, independence, finances, education and employment prospects, and your freedom. If you have been charged with a DUI violation, be sure to secure the highest-quality legal defense. Call Simmrin Law Group to schedule a free case evaluation with an experienced DUI attorney.
You can count on your lawyer’s fierce commitment to protecting your rights and defending your interests.