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Sobriety checkpoints or DUI checkpoints, as they are commonly known in Southern California, are police stops, or checkpoints, where officers are set up on a roadway to randomly stop vehicles to check for impaired drivers. These are usually set up during times when impaired driving is known to happen, such as holiday weekends. With summer just around the corner, it is important for drivers to be prepared for these checkpoints, which are more frequently held during the summer holiday weekends – be it Memorial Day, Fourth of July or Labor Day.
Here are 10 things you should know about DUI checkpoints as we approach the busy summer season.
1. DUI checkpoints are legal in California
DUI checkpoints or sobriety checkpoints are considered legal and valid both under the United States and California constitutions. The California Supreme Court has held that sobriety checkpoints, much like security checks at the airport, are administrative screenings. Checkpoints are also an exception to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that law enforcement officials should have probable cause to stop you.
2. Sobriety checkpoints must still follow rules.
The fact that DUI checkpoints are constitutional does not give them free rein to do as they please. There are a number of conditions that must be satisfied for a DUI checkpoint to be legal and constitutional. If it is deemed that the agency conducting the checkpoint did not follow the law, any arrest made as a result of that checkpoint could also be deemed illegal and the DUI charges must be dropped.
Here are some of the rules that must be followed. First, supervising officers should determine how, when and where the sobriety checkpoints must operate. Supervisors must also determine ahead of time as to which cars are to be stopped. Field officers are not to make such a determination. A random method should be established. For example, they may decide to stop every sixth car that passes the checkpoint.
The checkpoint should be in a location where there has been a high incidence of DUI-related accidents or arrests. Drivers should also be able to clearly see that they are approaching a checkpoint, which should be marked by warning signs, flashing lights and police cruisers with decals. Officers should be in uniform. Drivers should only be detained for a reasonable amount of time and be allowed to pass through if they don’t show signs of impairment. Sobriety checkpoints should also be advertised and publicized online, in local newspapers, television stations and social media.
3. Avoiding a DUI Checkpoint…and Its Consequences
There is no California law that says you can’t make a U-turn and avoid a DUI checkpoint or by taking another route. You can do this as long as you’re doing it safely. Police agencies routinely give motorists adequate warning to allow them to avoid a checkpoint. Also, departmental rules prohibit officers from stopping drivers just because they deliberately avoided the DUI checkpoint. A police officer can still pull you over if you commit a traffic violation, are driving with a defect such as a broken taillight or if you display signs of being inebriated.
In addition, you cannot refuse to stop at a sobriety checkpoint. California Vehicle Code Section 2814.2 (a) states: “A driver of a motor vehicle shall stop and submit to a sobriety checkpoint inspection conducted by a law enforcement agency when signs and displays are posted requiring that stop.” If you refuse to comply, you are doing so at your own risk. You may be charged with an infraction, or worse, if the situation escalates.
4. You may be cited for driving without a license.
If you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint and found to be driving without a valid driver’s license, you may be charged with driving without a valid license. If you simply forgot to bring your license with you, but have a valid license, you may just be cited for failure to display your license, which is an infraction. This charge may be dismissed later if you produce your driver’s license. If you don’t have a driver’s license because you did not renew it or because it was suspended or revoked, you may be charged with driving without a license or driving on a suspended license, which is a more serious charge.
5. You can find out about checkpoints in advance.
Police departments should publicize checkpoints, but are strictly required to publicize DUI sobriety checkpoints in advance. Law enforcement agencies will post official releases about DUI checkpoints on their websites or Facebook pages. They might also post on their Twitter feeds and put out announcements in the local newspaper.
If you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint, here are some tips with regard to how you can handle the situation:
• Remain calm and be polite at all times. If you get anxious, remember that this is a checkpoint and you are not being singled out for scrutiny. Remaining calm and collected will also send police the message that you have nothing to hide. Once you answer a few basic questions, you will most likely be able to drive away.
• Don’t give more information than you need do. The officer at the checkpoint will likely ask you about where you were or what you were doing. Don’t answer those questions. Be polite and identify yourself. But you don’t need to give any details beyond that. By limiting what you say you can greatly reduce the possibility of self-incrimination.
• Do not consent to a vehicle search. Officers need consent to search your vehicle or they need a warrant and probable cause. Even if you may hesitate to say “no” to a police officer, remember that it is well within your rights to do so.
• You do have the right to deny a field sobriety test. An officer may pressure you to take the test, but you don’t have to give consent. However, do submit to a chemical test, if you are required to do so. Refusing to take a chemical test can result in a license suspension.
If you have been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, do not talk to officers without first talking to an experienced Southern California DUI defense lawyer. You need someone on your side who will fight hard to protect your legal rights and best interests.