California Checkpoint Law
In order to be arrested for DUI, a person must first come into contact with police. There are generally three ways that DUI arrests begin:
- Police pull over a vehicle for breaking a law, exhibiting erratic driving patterns, etc
- Police respond to the scene of an accident
- Police stop vehicles at a sobriety checkpoint
A sobriety checkpoint is when police set up a roadblock where they stop each car that passes through and evaluates the driver for signs of intoxication. Police also use these checkpoints to check insurance cards and licenses and to make sure passengers are wearing their seat belts.
Checkpoints are illegal in some states, but they are upheld in California by state and federal constitutions. Every year police perform over 2,500 checkpoints statewide and they are constantly working to get more funding in order to increase these numbers. Police believe that the knowledge of widespread checkpoints is a very effective way of cutting down on the number of people who drink and drive.
What Makes a Checkpoint Legal?
There are certain protocol that police must follow in order for a checkpoint to be legal. State and federal laws set out procedures that police must follow. If a driver is arrested for DUI at an unlawful sobriety checkpoint, your charges could be dropped.
There are eight guidelines that control how checkpoints can be performed:
- Police supervisors must decide where the checkpoints will be. Patrol officers cannot decide to set up a checkpoint anywhere they please. This requirement is meant to reduce the chances of individual officer bias when selecting a location to stop vehicles.
- Police must determine a neutral pattern for stopping vehicles. For example, if all vehicles passing through the checkpoint cannot be stopped, police cannot arbitrarily stop whomever they feel. Police can decide to stop every other car, every fourth car, etc, as long as there is a consistent and un-bias pattern.
- Checkpoints must be located in an area that is safe for vehicles to be stopped. Asking drivers to pull off to the side of the road where there is an insufficient shoulder or other danger to them is not allowed when setting up a checkpoint.
- Police must take every measure possible to ensure that the checkpoints are as safe as possible. Police need to make sure there is proper lighting and signage around the checkpoint.
- The Checkpoints should be set up at a proper time and location so it will not be a danger to drivers or a burden. For example, a checkpoint at a major intersection during Friday rush hour would be a bed time to set up a checkpoint. Not only would it back up traffic, the unexpected stopping could cause accidents.
- Checkpoints should be designed so that drivers can get through them in a reasonable amount of time. They should not be set up in areas of extremely high traffic and should slow down traffic minimally. Drivers who are stopped should not be held by police for any longer than a reasonable amount of time.
- The checkpoints should be publicly announced prior to their set-up. This can be in a newspaper or blog or even the city's website.
- Police must make sure that drivers are aware of what is going on. There should be proper signs and warnings so that all cars approaching the checkpoints know what the purpose of the stop is before getting to the checkpoint. There should also be plenty of police vehicles and uniformed officers present so people feel safe stopping.
How to Be Arrested at a California Checkpoint
When police pull over a vehicle at a roadblock, they will generally ask to see the driver's license and insurance card. They will also be looking for signs of intoxication such as slurred speech, red eyes, erratic behavior or the smell of drugs or alcohol. If the officer has any reason to suspect that the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they will ask the driver to perform a sobriety test.
There are two kinds of tests that are performed by the roadside in order to evaluate for DUI. The first is a field sobriety test in which the driver will be asked to to a physical task such as lift one leg or walk a straight line. The second type of test measures the amount of alcohol in the driver's system using a Breathalyzer system called a Preliminary Screening Device.
Police are also allowed to stop vehicles that are obviously trying to avoid the checkpoint. If police see a car make a sharp U-turn right before being stopped, that is considered probable cause to pull them over.
California DUI Lawyer
If you have been arrested for DUI at a sobriety checkpoint, call our firm immediately for a free consultation. Our attorneys will listen to you and make sure you understand your rights. If you were stopped at an unlawful checkpoint, you could have your charges dismissed.