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Are DUI Checkpoints Legal?

Clients often ask if DUI checkpoints are legal. The question, of course, is that it depends. California Courts have ruled that checkpoints are in fact constitutional. But not for the traditional reasons the courts have articulated to justify a stop. Reasonable suspicion supported by specific, articulable facts, and individualized suspicion of wrongdoing that a crime has occurred or is about to occur has typically been the justification used for a stop.

The courts have taken the position that the checkpoints are administrative searches – akin to airport or border searches. That is, they promote a "regulatory purpose of promoting public safety." Ingersoll v. Palmer, 743 P 2d. 1299, 1332. al App. 4th Their purpose, presumably, is deterrence – not DUI arrest or to discover evidence of a crime. The standard used is not reasonable suspicion but reasonableness. The courts simply weigh the invasion of your privacy rights against the governments need to search.

This does not mean that police agencies can set up checkpoints in an arbitrary manner. There are guidelines needed to withstand constitutional scrutiny. Here is a brief summary of factors used to determine the constitutionality of a checkpoint:

  1. Decision-Making at the Supervisory Level: Supervisory law enforcement personnel must make the decisions with respect to the site and procedures of the checkpoints; not officers.
  2. Limits on Discretion of Field Officers: A neutral formula must be used to determine what cars are stopped. For example, every third car, fifth car, etc. A neutral formula must be established to preclude officers from stopping vehicles without reasonable suspicion.
  3. Maintenance of Safety Operations: Safety for officers and drivers is paramount. There must be plenty of lighting, signals, warning signs, and clear indications that officer personnel and police vehicles are present.
  4. Reasonable Location: The location should correspond somewhat with the legitimate interest that the government is trying to protect – deterring drinking and driving. Therefore, roads and areas with high alcohol related incidents should be chosen.
  5. Time and Duration: The time of day and length of checkpoint will also be a factor in determining its constitutionality.
  6. Indicia of Official Nature of Roadblock: Checkpoints must establish their official nature to minimize their intrusiveness. Proper lighting, signs, flashing lights, advance warning, etc., reassure motorist that the checkpoints are authorized.
  7. Length and Nature of Detention: The average time that a motorist is detained is another factor that determines the constitutional nature of the stop. The detention should last long enough to ascertain signs of intoxication.
  8. Advance Publicity: To reduce the level of intrusiveness of the stop and increase the deterrent effect, advance publicity is required.

The best way to protect your constitutional rights vis-a-vis a DUI arrest at a checkpoint is to hire an experienced DUI attorney from Kern Law, APC.