An Arbitrary Stop
Unlike some states, California permits law enforcement to conduct driver checkpoints on state highways. The checkpoints are used to identify drivers who are under the influence but can also be used to identify drivers who do not have valid licenses. You must have a valid driver's license to drive on California roads, so, if you don't, think twice before you go through any checkpoint.
The Problem With Checkpoints
This specific use of checkpoints is highly controversial. They have the potential to illegally target migrant farm laborers who are unable to get a driver's license but need to drive to the fields to work. Having to choose between making money and risking a ticket, many simply drive unlicensed, hoping for the best. Perhaps as a result of these difficult decisions some people make, law enforcement agencies are permitted, under certain circumstances, to check for driver's licenses at checkpoints. While many call this unconstitutional, law enforcement calls it necessary.
A Look at the Law
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects us from unreasonable search and seizure of their person, house, papers, or effects, vehicles included. Given this protection, many argue any checkpoint violates our constitutional rights as they allow officers to stop cars and question people without probable cause. The stops must be done arbitrarily and at random intervals. This means the officers do not need probable cause to stop someone. And these checkpoints are no minor inconvenience. Motorists must pull over, will be asked questions by law enforcement, and be asked to present their license and registration.
Checkpoints make driving on California roads risky. Under California law, you could be stopped at any time for any reason, even if you were not committing a traffic violation. Unfortunately, you must stop for law enforcement when motioned to do so, and you must cooperate to some extent once you are stopped. For example, you must provide basic identifying information. You will be asked for your name, and you must give it. You will also be asked to provide your license, registration, and potentially proof of insurance. You may be asked further questions, but you are not required to answer any questions that could be self-incriminating.
Law enforcement is also under strict regulations when it comes to operating checkpoints for DUIs or driver's licenses. For example, the following conditions must be met for the checkpoint to be legal:
- A supervising officer must make all operational decisions
- Officers must use neutral criteria for stopping drivers
- The checkpoint must be reasonably located
- Adequate safety precautions must be taken
- The time and duration of the checkpoint should reflect good judgment
- There must be official signage to indicate the checkpoint
- Drivers can only be detained for a minimal amount of time, and
- The checkpoints must be publically announced in advance
You are allowed to avoid or turn around before a checkpoint, so always keep informed on upcoming checkpoints and take a different route if you don't want to be stopped.
A Discriminatory Tactic?
Because sobriety checkpoints catch so many unlicensed drivers, many argue they are unfairly used to target those who are unable to get a license because of their migrant status. The fines for driving without a license are significant, which puts undue financial pressure on migrant workers. Indeed, local government can profit from catching unlicensed drivers, so there is a major incentive for officers to check for licenses at checkpoints.
If you are facing charges for driving without a license, you should speak with an experienced California driving crime defense attorney. The circumstances under which checkpoints must be operated are highly regulated. If the checkpoint did not adhere to the regulations, the evidence collected might not be admissible in court. You should go over the facts and circumstances of your case with an attorney. An attorney can advise you on whether the checkpoint adhered to regulations and what you can do to fight your charges and keep you on the road.
Facing a license suspension is stressful, but attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team can help. Experienced in driving crime and DUI defense, our Visalia area legal team can advocate on your behalf in court and aggressively fight your charges. Attorney Martens has over ten years experience in criminal defense working in Tulare, Fresno, and Kings County 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.