Many people who have been arrested at DUI checkpoints wonder if their rights have been violated -after all, the police didn’t have a reasonable suspicion for stopping any particular vehicle at the checkpoint, which is ordinarily a constitutional requirement. In a way, DUI checkpoints do violate a person’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, but the courts have upheld their legality, though only if the checkpoint observes a strict set of rules defined in the 1987 California Supreme Court decision from Ingersoll vs. Palmer. If you were arrested for drunk driving at a San Diego DUI checkpoint, Peter M. Liss can help.
DUI Checkpoint Laws in San Diego
Because sobriety checkpoints in California do not require police to operate under the reasonable suspicion threshold normally required in order to stop drivers, they are subject to a number of specific rules to ensure they are operated fairly and legally. These include:
- Before the checkpoint is set up, the police must select a reasonable location and a reasonable time and date as picked out by supervising officers. This has to be a location that is not too busy at a time, date and place where drivers are likely to operate a vehicle after drinking alcohol.
- The police department must notify the public days in advance.
- All checkpoints must have a supervising officer present at all times to make sure the rules are followed. This officer is also responsible for making all operational decisions.
- When the DUI checkpoint is in operation, it must look official, be operated safely and be neutrally run.
- The stop cannot detain drivers for excessive periods.
- Drivers must have the right to drive away from the checkpoint.
Challenging the Validity of DUI Checkpoints
Overall, courts in California consider not just one aspect of the entire sobriety checkpoint, but instead the entire totality of the circumstances. That being said, they consider some aspects more important than others. For example, if a supervising officer is not present, this would probably be enough to have the charges dropped.
On the other hand, local judges are becoming less strict about the requirement allowing drivers to turnaround at a checkpoint. While drivers can legally turn around where it is safe to do so, law enforcement officers have increasingly been setting up traffic cones so far away from a checkpoint that drivers cannot see what is coming ahead. Because there is no safe, legal place to turn around, police can then legally stop a driver for avoiding the checkpoint because he or she violated a traffic law. While this might not be enough for a court to rule the checkpoint unconstitutional, if it was also placed in an unreasonable location or at an unreasonable time of day, for example, it was near a church on a Sunday morning, the combination of these factors could be enough to justify the charges being dropped.
It’s worth noting though that because the locations must be listed in advance, you can generally avoid encountering a checkpoint stop by looking for proposed checkpoints listed on the local police or sheriff’s department websites before driving on any given weekend.
What Does Neutrally Operated Mean?
One of the most important factors to ensure sobriety checkpoints in San Diego are legal is that it is operated in a neutral manner. What this means is that since many checkpoints are too busy for officers to stop every car in the interest of keeping traffic moving (which would likely result in the police detaining drivers for excessively long periods), they must choose a fair way to stop only some of the vehicles. This means choosing a mathematical interval for stopping cars, such as every three cars, every other car, etc. They cannot chose to stop a car based on the driver, the vehicle type, the vehicle year or if it features an out-of-state license plate.
This means that even if police see a driver who is demonstrating multiple signs that he is driving under the influence of alcohol, they cannot stop the vehicle unless it happens to fit in the interval system. Even if a car is painted to say “DUIs 4 Ever,” police stopping every other vehicle could not stop the car if they stopped the car before it. If they fail to follow these guidelines, a San Diego DUI checkpoint lawyer will be able to have the charges against the driver dropped or reduced.
What Happens at Sobriety Checkpoints in San Diego
When police flag drivers at these checkpoints, they will tell drivers to remain in their vehicle. They will then ask to see your license and registration before asking you questions, generally relating to where you were, where you are going and if you have been drinking. If an officer believes you may be driving while drunk or high, he may then ask you to pull over. You will then most likely be asked to perform a field sobriety test and to submit to a portable breathalyzer. If police have a probable cause to search your vehicle, they may do so.
Your Rights at California DUI Checkpoints
As stated earlier, you have the right to drive away if you see a legal and safe way to avoid the checkpoint, but if you do not see a legal way to turn around, you must go through the stop. Once you go through, if your vehicle has been stopped, you must roll your window down when instructed to do so and you must provide you license and registration and you must answer questions related to your identity.
When it comes to answering any other questions though, you have the right to stay silent. Similarly, field sobriety tests are not legally required and you always have the right to refuse. When it comes to the portable alcohol breath test, most drivers are legally permitted to refuse these tests, but those under 21 must submit to these tests. These days, some checkpoints are also asking drivers to submit to a cheek swab to test for marijuana residue and again, these tests are entirely optional.
If police ask to search your vehicle, they can do so without a warrant. Because probable cause is required, if the officer searches your car without probable cause, your criminal defense lawyer may be able to challenge anything discovered as a result of this search. But because this legal standard is complex, it is best to stand aside and be silent during the search and then tell your attorney all the circumstances related to the search after it was performed.
If you are arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, you must submit to a chemical blood or breath test under the state’s implied consent law. If you are suspected of driving under the influence of drugs, you will be required to submit to a blood test.
Anyone who has been arrested at a DUI checkpoint should call a DUI attorney as soon as possible to discuss their case. Aside from being able to challenge the constitutionality of the checkpoint under California law, DUI checkpoint lawyers also have other common DUI defenses at their disposal in these cases, which is why you should always fight the charges if you were accused of drunk driving or driving while high after going through a checkpoint. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free consultation with criminal defense attorney Peter M. Liss.
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