Sobriety Checkpoint Laws
Many states have ruled that sobriety checkpoints are unconstitutional and illegal. The State of California, however, does allow law enforcement to conduct sobriety checkpoints. In fact, California operates thousands of checkpoints every year.
But what makes them legal in California but not other states? And how does law enforcement get away with violating our constitutional rights? These questions touch on the larger legal issue of how and when the government can violate our rights.
While many states view them as unconstitutional, California law argues the benefits of checkpoints—catching drunk drivers to increase the safety of roads—outweigh the costs—the invasion of your privacy. California also views sobriety checkpoints as more akin to airport screenings—an administrative procedure—than DUI traps. Thus, both the U.S. and the California constitution find sobriety checkpoints constitutional if, an only if, law enforcement conducts them appropriately.
California sobriety checkpoints must abide by many guidelines to be conducted legally, including:
- Law enforcement must announce checkpoints in advance.
Many checkpoints are publicized by each jurisdiction. You can even find announcements of California sobriety checkpoints on some social media platforms.
- A supervising officer must make all operational decisions.
This ensures the checkpoints are in accordance with policies and the law.
- The checkpoints must minimize the amount of time each motorist is detained.
Given the traffic in California, this is important. Officers cannot detain a motorist for more than a few moments. They can ask a few questions but have to send you on your way unless they suspect you've been driving impaired.
- The criteria for stopping motorists must be neutral (i.e., not motivated by any specific factor).
This is where checkpoints stray from the constitutional right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Without probable cause—reason to believe you committed a crime—law enforcement cannot stop you. Sobriety checkpoints are an exception.
- The amount of time each motorist is stopped must reflect good judgment on the part of the officer.
Again, motorists can only be detained for a minimal amount of time. A few questions, a quick look around the inside of the vehicle and you should be allowed to continue through the checkpoint.
- The checkpoint must be reasonably located.
Checkpoints are usually positioned in areas where impaired drivers are expected to be, which leads many to believe they are traps. But they are announced in advance, so pay attention to those announcements and take alternate routes to avoid them.
- Law enforcement must take adequate safety precautions when operating the checkpoint.
Checkpoints must not endanger motorists. When stopped on the road, however, this can be challenging.
- The checkpoint must display official indicators.
The checkpoints and the operating officers must display official insignia of authority.
If a checkpoint does not adhere to these regulations, it could be ruled illegal in court. If you were arrested for a DUI at an illegal checkpoint, a good attorney might be able to get your case dismissed. Therefore, it's important to understand the law behind California sobriety checkpoints so you can protect and defend your rights in the event you are arrested.
Many people still maintain sobriety checkpoints are unconstitutional despite the regulations. Perhaps this is a good example of how our constitutional rights aren't ironclad and can be treated as flexible for good cause. And California lawmakers see a large number of DUI-related traffic fatalities each year as good cause.
California DUI law is complicated. If you are facing DUI charges, you could benefit from speaking with an experienced DUI attorney. To make sure you have the best chance of avoiding a conviction, work with an attorney on your defense. An arrest does not mean an automatic conviction, but many people don't realize this. In reality, many DUI cases are dismissed for reasons like illegally operated checkpoints. But without consulting with a DUI defense attorney, you might not be aware of all your options.
Facing DUI charges 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.