Throughout California, and in other parts of the country, law enforcement officers can set up DUI checkpoints on the road. At these checkpoints, officers stop drivers, ask to see their license and registration and possibly test them for intoxication. The purpose of the checkpoints is to reduce the number of DUI accidents and deter DUI perpetrators, which is why checkpoints occur more frequently on weekends and holidays or in other times (or locations) associated with drinking.
People regularly get arrested at DUI checkpoints. One recent example involves nine arrests made at a checkpoint in San Diego. At a checkpoint, you can also be caught out for other violations of the law, including driving without a license.
You might be wondering if DUI checkpoints are constitutional. This has in fact been a point of contention, and in some states their use is outlawed; even in states where they're permitted, not all jurisdictions allow their implementation.
The US Supreme Court did rule that they're constitutional. But it's important to remember that police are generally only able to initially stop you if they have probable cause - for example, you break a law on the road, drive in a way that indicates intoxication, or have what appears to be an unsafe defect in your vehicle. DUI checkpoints are an exception in that police don't need probable cause to stop you when you're driving.
Even though DUI checkpoints aren't considered a violation of the US Constitution, does that mean you can't challenge your arrest?
If you were arrested at a DUI checkpoint, keep in mind that the police are still subject to protocols for how to manage the checkpoint and behave towards drivers.
For example, law enforcement officers at a checkpoint have to stop people based on a neutral criteria. They're allowed to establish a pattern in advance of stopping every third or fourth car, but they're not allowed to set up guidelines targeting any one group of people or arbitrarily changing their selection criteria as they go.
Checkpoints need to be set up in areas with a higher than average number of DUI arrests and/or accidents. The checkpoints must be set up safely and be visible to drivers. There also needs to be enough of an indication that this checkpoint is an official law enforcement operation; police, for instance, can't man the checkpoint out of uniform and in unmarked vehicles, with no other signs that they're law enforcement officers.
Also important to note is that police officers need to be reasonable when testing drivers for intoxication. If they stop a driver, ask to see their license and registration, and find no outward indications of intoxication (e.g. no slurred speech or breath smelling heavily of alcohol), they shouldn't administer tests for intoxication. They should stop drivers for as short an amount of time as possible and only administer tests for intoxication based on probable cause.
If you have been arrested at a DUI checkpoint, and you live in the Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore, Hemet, Corona or Riverside areas, don't hesitate to contact our law office. The outcome of your case depends not only on whether you were actually intoxicated, but on whether your arrest was warranted and whether the police behaved in accordance with the rules for DUI checkpoints. If they didn't, there's a chance your case might be tossed out of court.