Avoiding Police Interactions
DUI checkpoints are traffic stops where a police officer can stop cars without probable cause. California conducts 2,500 checkpoints annually. If you live in California, chances are good you've been inconvenienced in some way by a sobriety checkpoint. DUI checkpoints are not just a concern for those who drive under the influence. They slow traffic and are a hassle to drivers. Typically positioned in areas where law enforcement predicts drunk drivers will be, these stops can seem like a trap. Not surprisingly, they are highly controversial with the public and beg the question of just what are our rights when it comes to sobriety checkpoints?
What Are Your Obligations?
Many people wonder what their obligation is when it comes to DUI checkpoints. Simply put, if an officer motions for you to stop once you arrive at a legal checkpoint, you have to stop and submit to an inspection. Before you reach that point, however, you are permitted to turn around and take an alternative route. Police officers can only stop cars at neutral intervals (i.e. not targeted) at checkpoints, so they cannot pull you over for turning around unless you break a traffic law in doing so. Nor is it seen as a sign of guilt to avoid a checkpoint. The hassle and intrusion of the stop is enough for many people to turn around, even if they haven't been drinking.
What Are Your Rights?
Many people argue that sobriety checkpoints are unconstitutional. We have a right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. This very important right is protected under the Fourth Amendment. Without probable cause, law enforcement cannot stop you, detain you, interrogate you, or search your person or your vehicle. Sobriety checkpoints technically conflict with this right. Some would even say sobriety checkpoints violate this right. Since the stops have to be done at neutral intervals, the law enforcement officer does not need probable cause to stop you. But The State of California, along with other states that permit sobriety checkpoints, has argued that while they are intrusive, the benefits of stopping drunk drivers far outweigh the costs of the inconvenience to sober drivers. Not surprisingly, sobriety checkpoints are highly regulated to maintain our rights to privacy as best as possible. For a checkpoint to operate legally, it must adhere to several requirements.
- Law enforcement is required to announce sobriety checkpoints in advance. This gives drivers a chance to avoid the stop altogether if they can. This is perfectly legal.
- Proper signs and displays must be present. Usually, the signage will give a driver enough time to safely turn around and avoid the checkpoint. This is legal.
- Adequate safety precautions must be taken. The checkpoint cannot endanger drivers' lives.
- The officers must be clearly uniformed and identifiable. This is to make sure it is clear that they have authority to conduct the stop.
- Drivers can only be detained for a small amount of time. The amount of time a driver has to be stopped must be minimized. A few questions, a quick look in the car, and, if no signs of intoxication are found, the driver should be free to go.
- The stops must be neutral, meaning unbiased and unmotivated by probable cause or suspicions.
- A supervising officer must make all operational decisions, and
- The location, time, and duration should be reasonable.
These regulations attempt to keep the stops as fair and neutral as possible.
Speak with an experienced California DUI defense attorney if you are facing DUI charges or have questions about your rights. It is very important to understand your rights so you can defend them if you come across a sobriety checkpoint. And, if you were arrested at a sobriety checkpoint, you should speak with an attorney about your experience so you can be sure the checkpoint was adhering to all regulations. If it wasn't, an attorney may be able to get your case dismissed.
Do you have questions about DUI checkpoints? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team for help in Tulare, Fresno or Kings County. Experienced in DUI defense, our Visalia area legal team can advise you of your rights and help you defend them. Attorney Martens has over ten years experience in criminal defense and won't be afraid to take your case all the way to trial. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.