What You Should Know About DUI Checkpoints
In Los Angeles, police checkpoints are a common sight, especially during the holidays and the weekends. Also known as sobriety checkpoints or stop and check points, these roadblocks are legal in California, even though the stops are not associated with specific concerns a police officer may have. While checkpoints are often used to catch drivers under the influence, they may also be used by police to find unlicensed drivers, drivers without insurance, and underage drivers past their allowed driving hours.
Checkpoint locations are fairly random and temporary, but California law enforcement must follow very specific guidelines for the checkpoint to be legal.
California Guidelines for a Legal DUI Checkpoint
California law enforcement must generally have reasonable cause to stop and question a driver, such as a defect in the car, a traffic violation, or driving patterns that indicate the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Sobriety checkpoints are an obvious exception to this. Courts have upheld that police can conduct these systematic stops to locate drivers who are under the influence, but only when the checkpoints meet 8 guidelines.
For a checkpoint to be legal:
- There must be neutral criteria for stopping motorists.
- Supervising law enforcement must make operational decisions.
- Proper safety steps must be taken.
- The sobriety checkpoints must be in a reasonable location.
- The time and duration of sobriety checkpoints must reflect good judgment on the part of law enforcement.
- The checkpoint must have sufficient signs and indications of the nature of the stop.
- Drivers should be detained for as little time as possible.
- Sobriety checkpoints must be publicly advertised beforehand.
A checkpoint may be challenged if law enforcement fails to meet all of these guidelines. It is actually fairly common for DUI charges to be dismissed when they result from a sobriety checkpoint stop.
During the stop, officers will ask motorists for their license and registration and ask brief questions to check for signs of intoxication such as bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, fumbling, and nervousness.
You Have the Right to Refuse Field Sobriety Tests and Field Breathalyzer Tests
If an officer stops you at a checkpoint and believes you are under the influence, they will likely ask you to perform field sobriety tests (FSTs) or submit to a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test or breathalyzer. You have the right to refuse these tests! These tests are not always accurate at determining when someone is under the influence of alcohol but failing the tests can be used against you. If you refuse these tests, it can’t be held against you in the DMV hearing or court proceedings f you are charged.
You Have the Right to Avoid a Sobriety Checkpoint
California law grants motorists the right to avoid sobriety checkpoints if it is done safely and legally. For example, if you can find a route around the sobriety checkpoint without committing a traffic or moving violation, you have the right to do this and law enforcement should not pull you over based solely on the fact that you avoided the checkpoint.
This is why sobriety checkpoints should be advertised and their location and time made available to the public, usually through newspapers, law enforcement websites, radio stations, and social media.
Contact a DUI Defense Attorney in Los Angeles
For a DUI defense attorney, a sobriety checkpoint case can offer many defense options. For example, a case is built on the allegation that the driver was too impaired to drive safely, yet the driver successfully approached the sobriety checkpoint and interacted with police. Checkpoint cases do not involve a driver committing any bad driving observed by police, either, such as speeding, swerving, or crossing over lines.
While the Supreme Court has upheld DUI checkpoints as legal, the fact is they are not the best tool for detecting drivers under the influence and represent a waste of police resources. In the landmark Supreme Court case, a dissenting justice even pointed out findings of the trial court that indicate sobriety checkpoints have a very tiny and possibly negative net effect on traffic safety, a point that has been confirmed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
If you have been arrested for DUI after a DUI checkpoint, it’s important to contact a DUI defense attorney as soon as you can. Sobriety checkpoints must be done in a specific fashion to be legal and the checkpoint may be challenged if it was not. In these cases, DUI charges are usually dismissed. Contact Soliman Law Group for a free consultation with an experienced Los Angeles DUI attorney to discuss your case and protect your rights.