Rights and Regulations at California DUI Checkpoints
Your rights at a DUI checkpoint are much the same as if you were stopped by the police under the suspicion of DUI. Some DUI checkpoints are considered by criminal defense attorneys to be what is called a per se violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.
Under the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, you have the right to be secure in your persons, house, papers, and effects, from unreasonable searches and seizures. Consequently, a DUI checkpoint is a violation of this right, unless it is done properly.
The United States Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court have carved out a few exceptions to the Fourth Amendment that allow for DUI checkpoints, however, you still have some very basic constitutional right that you can flex at a DUI checkpoint.
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions regarding your rights a California DUI checkpoint:
Can I avoid a DUI checkpoint?
One question attorneys often get regarding DUI checkpoints is whether or not it is illegal to avoid one. Do you have to go around them?
The answer to this question is Yes. It is completely legal to dodge a DUI checkpoint, as long as you obey all traffic laws while doing so.
For example, if you are driving down the road, see a DUI checkpoint ahead, and decide that you don’t want to go through it, you can turn at the next corner or make a legal U-turn and head back the other way.
This is completely legal, and officers are not allowed to stop you simply because you turned away. If they do, your attorney may be able to get any charges that arise dismissed if it can be proven that the sole reason you were stopped was because you attempted to dodge a DUI checkpoint.
However, if you have a broken tail light or drive recklessly or suspiciously to avoid the checkpoint, you may give the officer’s reasonable suspicion to pull you over.
What commonly happens when someone attempts to avoid a DUI checkpoint is that he or she will make an illegal turn, neglect to use the turn signal, go through a stop sign, or hit the gas and speed around the checkpoint. Any of these things will give the police legal grounds to stop you.
So, if you are going to dodge a DUI checkpoint, make sure that you don’t break any laws while doing so. Furthermore, make sure that you don’t have tinted windows, and that all of your lights are on and in working order, as these things will increase the chances of you being pulled over.
When Can I Not Avoid a DUI Checkpoint?
One of the ways in which the police try to prevent drivers from dodging DUI checkpoints is by disguising them as construction zones. When drivers are approaching, all they see are orange cones and construction signs. By the time they realize that they are driving through a DUI checkpoint, there is no way to turn, and it is too late to avoid the stop. When this happens, don’t attempt to pass through without stopping. You have a legal obligation to pull over and stop when you are being flagged down by the police.
Am I required by law to show my License?
Yes. It’s important to remember that your ability to drive is a privilege, not a constitutional right. So, generally speaking, you do not have Fourth amendment right to withhold identification, and you would have to provide some identification and proof that you are entitled to drive in the state of California. So, be prepared to provide your name, driver’s license, and registration. You don’t lawfully have to engage in any detailed conversation with the officer, but if you are evasive and try to avoid questions, this may increase your likelihood of being detained for further questioning.
If the officer asks me if I have been drinking, do I have to answer?
If you are asked if you have been drinking, you have the right under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution to refuse to answer. If you have been drinking, it would be in your best interest to respectfully avoid answering this question. Simply and respectfully inform the requesting officer that you don’t want to answer. But, be polite and in no way argumentative.
Do I have to submit to a field sobriety test?
If the police asked you to step out of the car to perform a field sobriety test, they have already made a determination that you have been drinking and are driving under the influence. So once again, you should respectfully decline to submit to the test. Simply tell them that your attorney has advised you that you shouldn’t perform the test and that you respectfully decline.
What about a Chemical Test? Am I required to take one?
At some point in time the police may also ask you to take a chemical test, either a breath test or blood test, and sometimes a urine test if they suspect drugs. Under the California’s implied consent law, you are required to take a blood test or chemical test. If you don’t, you will lose your license for a year based upon your refusal. So, you will have to comply.
Get Help Before It’s Too Late
When you pull into a DUI checkpoint, you need to pay attention to everything that’s going on––are they stopping every car? What question are they asking? Is there a sign saying that you have the right to turn around? There are specific things that the police have to do to make a DUI checkpoint constitutional and not a per se violation of the Fourth Amendment rights.
If you have been stopped at a DUI checkpoint in California and you feel that law enforcement did not comply with the regulations for a lawful checkpoint, or that your blood alcohol content was not over the limit at the time that you were driving, contact an experienced California DUI defense lawyer immediately. He or she will fight to have your charges dismissed or reduced.