Sobriety Checkpoints

DUI Checkpoint Regulations

Police officers in California aren’t supposed to pull you over for no reason. Generally, the officer must have probable cause. However, one exception involves the use of sobriety checkpoints to stop drivers to check whether they may be under the influence. California regularly makes use of sobriety checkpoints. Also known as DUI checkpoints, there are thousands taking place each year across the state.

Law enforcement officers are supposed to follow certain procedural guidelines to ensure that a sobriety checkpoint is constitutional, but police don’t always follow the rules. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a sobriety checkpoint must have the following:

  • Located in a reasonable spot;
  • Safety precautions in place, including proper lighting;
  • Reasonable duration and at a reasonable time;
  • Drivers stopped for a minimal amount of time;
  • Supervising officers directing the operation;
  • A neutral system for stopping drivers;
  • Obvious and official police presence and visibility; and
  • Public notice in advance.

Use of Sobriety Checkpoints

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that DUI checkpoints do meet the constitutional standard for “reasonable search and seizure” because the government has a substantial interest in preventing drunk driving. Checkpoints are rationally related to that interest. A sobriety checkpoint is considered by the courts as an “administrative procedure” rather than a criminal police stop.

During a DUI checkpoint stop, officers can briefly stop all vehicles or use a non-discretionary system for stopping vehicles. When officers speak to the driver, they are interested in looking for any signs of alcohol or drug impairment. This includes the smell of alcohol in the car, bloodshot eyes, smelling marijuana in the car, slurred speech, or even the driver admitting to drinking alcohol.

If an officer suspects a driver is impaired based on his/her observations, the officer may have the driver pull over for further investigation. This may include additional questioning, use of a preliminary breath tests, or field sobriety tests. If the officer determines the driver is impaired, he/she will place the driver under arrest and take him/her to the station where they will administer a chemical test to determine blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

Public Notice of Sobriety Checkpoints

It may seem counter intuitive for police officers or the CHP to put out a notice in the newspaper or on social media about an upcoming sobriety checkpoint. However, one of the greatest impacts sobriety checkpoints have is deter drivers from taking to the roads if they have been drinking. It also allows the public to avoid traffic delays and gives them time to plan an alternate route.

Another purpose of a sobriety checkpoint is to identify drivers who may not be intoxicated but have some other vehicle or criminal violation. This includes distracted drivers on the phone, seat belt violations, driving on a suspended license, and sometimes catching drivers who currently have a warrant out for their arrest.

California DUI Attorney

If you were driving through a DUI checkpoint and got arrested for a DUI, remember to contact your DUI defense lawyer as soon as you can to make sure you have someone to fight for your rights. An arrest does not have to lead to a criminal DUI conviction. Your California DUI attorney will not only fight to keep you from being convicted of criminal charges, but also represent you at the DMV hearing so that you can keep your license to drive.