You may have encountered DUI checkpoints on the road as a driver. These are roadside stops where law enforcement officers check drivers for signs of impairment and ensure they are driving safely. However, while these checkpoints are legal in California, they can be a source of confusion and frustration for many drivers.

At Koenig Law Office, we understand how intimidating it can be to face a DUI checkpoint, especially if you are arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. As a criminal defense firm based in Bakersfield, we have helped many clients navigate the legal system and defend their rights after a DUI checkpoint arrest.

In this article, we'll explore the legality of DUI checkpoints in California, your rights as a driver at a checkpoint, and what you can expect if you are arrested for DUI at a checkpoint. We'll also provide tips on how to handle a DUI checkpoint and avoid legal trouble on the road. So if you're concerned about DUI checkpoints in California, read on to learn more.

The History and Controversial Nature Surrounding DUI Checkpoints

The use of DUI checkpoints in California can be traced back to the 1980s when a rise in alcohol-related crashes led law enforcement agencies to seek new methods for detecting and deterring drunk driving. In 1985, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) began conducting sobriety checkpoints on a trial basis, and the practice soon spread to other law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

The California Supreme Court issued a ruling in Ingersoll v. Palmer, which established guidelines for the use of sobriety checkpoints in the state. These guidelines include requirements that checkpoints be conducted in a neutral and non-discriminatory manner, that drivers be stopped for only a brief period of time, and that advance notice be provided to the public about the location and timing of checkpoints.

However, the legality of DUI checkpoints was challenged in California and other states in the following years. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, which held that sobriety checkpoints were constitutional as long as they were conducted in a manner that minimized intrusion on drivers and advanced public safety goals. This decision paved the way for the widespread use of DUI checkpoints in California and other states.

Since the Ingersoll decision, DUI checkpoints have become a standard tool for law enforcement agencies in California.

However, the use of DUI checkpoints has also faced criticism and controversy. Some civil liberties advocates argue that checkpoints can be intrusive and violate drivers' privacy rights and that they are often ineffective at catching drunk drivers. In 1994, the California Supreme Court even ruled that sobriety checkpoints violated the state's constitution, though this decision was later overturned by a voter initiative.

In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California issued a report criticizing the use of DUI checkpoints in the state, arguing that they were often ineffective in catching drunk drivers and disproportionately targeted minority communities. The report also raised concerns about privacy violations and the potential for law enforcement to use checkpoints as a pretext for other types of searches and seizures.

The Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling that raised concerns about the use of drug-sniffing dogs at sobriety checkpoints. The court found that the use of such dogs at checkpoints could be considered a search under the Fourth Amendment and that officers must have probable cause to use them. The ruling was seen as a victory for civil liberties advocates who had argued that the use of drug-sniffing dogs at checkpoints was a violation of drivers' privacy rights.

Despite the surrounding criticisms, the use of DUI checkpoints remains legal in California and other states, and they continue to be a common tool for law enforcement agencies in the fight against drunk driving.

Understanding DUI Checkpoints and How They Work

DUI checkpoints, also known as sobriety checkpoints, are roadside stops set up by law enforcement officers to check drivers for signs of impairment and ensure they are driving safely. These checkpoints are typically set up in high-traffic areas, such as on major highways or near popular events where alcohol consumption is likely.

When you approach a DUI checkpoint, you will be directed to pull over to the side of the road. A law enforcement officer will then ask you a series of questions and check your driver's license and registration. The officer may also ask you to perform a field sobriety test, such as walking in a straight line or standing on one foot.

If the officer has reason to believe you may be driving under the influence, they may ask you to take a breathalyzer or blood test to measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Under California Vehicle Code, the legal limit for BAC is 0.08% for drivers over 21 years old, 0.04% for commercial drivers, and 0.01% for drivers under 21 years old.

If you are found to be driving under the influence, you will be arrested and charged with DUI. However, if you are not impaired, you will be allowed to continue driving.

Criteria that a DUI Checkpoint Should Meet

In California, DUI checkpoints are legal as long as they meet certain legal requirements. These requirements include:

     1. Publicized in advance

DUI checkpoints should be publicized in advance to inform drivers of the location and time of the checkpoint. This means that law enforcement agencies should provide notice to the public, typically through media outlets such as newspapers, TV, or social media, about the upcoming DUI checkpoint location and date. The notice must be given with enough time in advance to allow drivers to adjust their routes if they wish to avoid the checkpoint.

The purpose of publicizing the DUI checkpoint is to provide transparency and allow drivers to know what to expect when driving in the area. This also serves as a deterrent to potential drunk drivers and provides an opportunity for them to make other arrangements, such as finding a designated driver or using a ride-sharing service.

Although DUI checkpoints should be publicized in advance, the specific location of the checkpoint may not be revealed until the day of the checkpoint. This is to prevent drivers from avoiding the checkpoint altogether, as law enforcement agencies still want to catch potential drunk drivers.

Overall, the requirement to publicize DUI checkpoints in advance is intended to ensure that drivers are aware of the checkpoint and have the opportunity to comply with the law while also protecting their individual rights and privacy.

     2. Neutral and non-discriminatory

Officers cannot selectively target certain drivers based on their race, ethnicity, or other factors. DUI checkpoints must be conducted in a neutral and non-discriminatory manner. To achieve this, law enforcement agencies must use specific criteria to determine which cars to stop, such as every third car or every fifth car. This ensures that drivers are not being singled out based on their appearance or other characteristics.

Additionally, officers must follow specific guidelines and protocols for conducting the checkpoint, and they must treat all drivers the same way. For example, if an officer suspects a driver of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they must perform the same field sobriety test or breathalyzer test regardless of the driver's race or ethnicity.

The requirement that DUI checkpoints be neutral and non-discriminatory is important to protect drivers from unfair treatment and to ensure that law enforcement is not engaging in discriminatory practices. It also helps to ensure that the checkpoint is being conducted for its intended purpose, which is to protect public safety by identifying and arresting impaired drivers.

     3. Safe location

The location of a DUI checkpoint must be chosen for safety reasons and based on traffic patterns and a history of DUI arrests. For instance, the location should have ample space for vehicles to safely enter and exit the checkpoint and it should not have high crime or other safety concerns.

     4. Minimal intrusion

DUI checkpoints must involve minimal intrusion on drivers, meaning that officers must use specific criteria, such as every third car, to determine which cars to stop.

     5. Reasonable detention

Drivers must be detained for a reasonable amount of time, typically no longer than a few minutes, unless there is reasonable suspicion of impairment. Law enforcement officers are authorized to briefly detain drivers for the purpose of determining if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This detention is considered a "seizure" under the Fourth Amendment, and as such, it must be reasonable and not violate an individual's rights.

     6. Specific guidelines

Law enforcement agencies must have specific guidelines and procedures in place for conducting DUI checkpoints.

     7. Proper signage and lighting

DUI checkpoints must be clearly marked with signs and lighting to alert drivers to the checkpoint location.

     8. Constitutional decisions must be made by supervisors

The supervising officer is responsible for making all constitutional decisions related to the checkpoint. They must ensure that the checkpoint complies with the Fourth Amendment's requirement of reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Additionally, the supervising officer must ensure that the checkpoint does not violate the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin. They must also ensure the checkpoint does not violate state and federal laws.

If a DUI checkpoint in California does not meet these legal requirements, it may be deemed unconstitutional and any evidence obtained during the checkpoint may be inadmissible in court.

Field Sobriety and Chemical Tests at a DUI Checkpoint

If you are pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), you may be asked to take a breathalyzer or other chemical test to measure your blood alcohol content (BAC). While breathalyzers can be an effective tool in detecting drunk drivers, their accuracy is not guaranteed and they should not be the sole factor in determining whether someone is charged with a DUI. Other evidence, such as field sobriety tests and observations of the driver's behavior, should also be taken into account.

While you have certain rights when it comes to DUI testing, it's important to understand that there are also consequences for refusing to take these tests.

Here are some of the rights associated with DUI testing in California:

  • Right to refuse: You have the right to refuse a chemical test, but doing so may result in consequences, such as automatic suspension of your driver's license. However, drivers under 21 and those on DUI probation must comply with chemical tests.
  • Right to a separate blood test: If you agree to take a chemical test, you have the right to request a separate blood test be performed by a medical professional of your choosing.
  • Right to be informed of consequences: Before you take a chemical test, the law enforcement officer must inform you of the consequences of refusing to take the test or of taking the test and having a BAC over the legal limit.
  • Right to an attorney: You have the right to consult with an attorney before deciding whether to take a chemical test.
  • Right to privacy: The law enforcement officer must conduct the chemical test in a private area, away from the public eye.

While you have the right to refuse a chemical test, doing so may result in consequences, such as automatic suspension of your driver's license for one year for a first offense. Additionally, if you refuse to take a chemical test, the prosecution may use your refusal as evidence against you in court. It's important to consult with an experienced DUI defense attorney to understand your rights and options if you are facing DUI charges.

Your Right to Remain Silent

The Fifth Amendment protects individuals from self-incrimination. This means that you have the right to remain silent and not answer any questions that could incriminate you at a DUI checkpoint.

If you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint, you may be asked questions by law enforcement officers, such as where you are going, where you are coming from, and whether you have been drinking. While you should provide your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance when asked, you are not required to answer any other questions.

If an officer asks if you have been drinking, you can exercise your right to remain silent and politely decline to answer. You should remain calm and polite when exercising your Fifth Amendment rights, as being argumentative or confrontational can escalate the situation and potentially lead to additional charges.

Avoiding a California DUI Checkpoint

Typically, law enforcement agencies give drivers sufficient warning to alert them that there is a roadblock. As a result, a driver can avoid a roadblock by taking a U-turn or another route. However, this must be done safely, meaning the driver should not break any traffic laws.

In short, while you can avoid a checkpoint, doing so can raise suspicions and potentially result in an arrest for DUI or other traffic violations.

An Arrest at a DUI Checkpoint

Before making an arrest, officers will typically look for signs of impaired driving. This can include slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and the smell of alcohol on the driver's breath or clothing. They may also observe the driver's behavior, such as whether they are fidgeting or acting nervous. Additionally, officers may inspect the vehicle for any signs of alcohol or drug use, such as open containers or drug paraphernalia.

If there are signs of impairment, the officer may ask the driver to take a preliminary alcohol screening test, field tests, or chemical tests. Based on these results, the officer may have probable cause to initiate any of these charges:

  • VEH 23152(a) for driving under the influence of alcohol.
  • VEH 23152(b) driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher.
  • Underage DUI for drivers under 21 with a BAC of 0.01% or higher.
  • VEH 23152(f) driving under the influence of drugs.
  • Commercial license DUI for commercial drivers with a BAC of 0.04% or higher.

What Happens if I Don’t Have a Driver’s License?

If you approach a DUI checkpoint without a valid driver's license, you may face charges such as:

  • Driving without a license under VEH 12500. Potential penalties are a maximum of $250 as an infraction. A misdemeanor, it carries up to six months in jail and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.
  • Driving on a suspended license under VEH 14601. The exact punishment depends on why the license was suspended, but the maximum fines are usually $1,000.
  • Failure to display a driver's license under VEH 12951. It carries a maximum fine of $250 as an infraction. As a misdemeanor, it carries up to six months in jail plus a maximum fine of $1,000.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • Be cooperative and polite with the officers: Even if you don't have a license, you still need to follow the officer's instructions and be polite and cooperative.
  • Provide other forms of identification: If you don't have a physical driver's license with you, you may be able to provide other forms of identification, such as a passport or a state-issued ID card.
  • Provide your license number: Even if you don't have your physical driver's license with you, you may be able to provide your license number to the officer.

Can My Vehicle be Impounded?

California Vehicle Code 2814.2 prohibits law enforcement officers from automatically impounding a vehicle when the driver does not have a valid license. This law was enacted in response to concerns about the disproportionate impact of impoundment on low-income and minority drivers.

Under this law, when a driver is stopped at a DUI checkpoint or for another traffic violation, the law enforcement officer must give the driver the option to call a licensed driver to come and pick up the vehicle. If the driver is unable to obtain a licensed driver, the officer must release the vehicle to a licensed towing company instead of impounding it.

Effectiveness of DUI Checkpoints

The effectiveness of DUI checkpoints in California and elsewhere has been a subject of debate among law enforcement, policymakers, and civil liberties advocates. Supporters of DUI checkpoints argue that they are an essential tool in deterring drunk driving and preventing alcohol-related accidents and fatalities.

One study published in the Journal of Safety Research analyzed data from 10 years of California DUI checkpoints and found that they were associated with a statistically significant reduction in alcohol-related crashes. The study also found that checkpoints were more effective at reducing crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers than other types of enforcement, such as saturation patrols.

Another study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that states with high rates of DUI checkpoint use had lower rates of alcohol-related fatalities than states with lower rates of checkpoint use.

However, some critics argue that DUI checkpoints are not an effective use of law enforcement resources and that they disproportionately target minority communities and low-income drivers. There have also been concerns about the constitutionality and legality of checkpoints, as well as the potential for abuse of power by law enforcement officers.

Despite the controversy, DUI checkpoints remain a common tool used by law enforcement agencies across California and the country in an effort to prevent drunk driving and reduce alcohol-related accidents and fatalities.

Contact a Bakersfield DUI Attorney Near Me

DUI checkpoints are a common practice in California and have been upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court. While they may be controversial and raise concerns about individual rights and privacy, many DUI arrests and charges have emanated from these checkpoints. It is important for drivers to know their rights and obligations when approaching a DUI checkpoint, including providing their license and registration, and submitting to a sobriety test if asked to do so.

If you have been arrested or charged with a DUI offense, it is crucial to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help protect your rights and provide effective legal representation. If you are in Bakersfield, contact the Koenig Law Office today at 661-793-7222 for legal help.