California DUI checkpoints are also commonly referred to as
California DUI checkpoints have become more and more common as the state cracks down on drunk driving. Drivers stopped at checkpoints and found to be impaired are generally charged with Vehicle Code 23152a VC driving under the influence and Vehicle Code 23152b driving with a BAC .08 or greater.
That said, when a driver is arrested for DUI at a checkpoint, it is often possible to fight the charges successfully. For one thing, police at checkpoints typically don't observe any "bad driving" (such as weaving). Therefore they can't prove that the person's driving ability was really impaired.
Second, a savvy DUI defense lawyer can sometimes challenge the validity of the checkpoint itself. If this challenge succeeds, it typically means the whole case gets dismissed.
If the California DUI checkpoint does not adhere to very specific legal requirements, your charge may be dismissed. Some of the most common
California legal defenses that apply to sobriety checkpoints include:
The penalties for a California DUI conviction are virtually the same whether your arrest originates at a DUI / driver's license checkpoint or somewhere else. It's the impaired driving that is being punished, not the manner in which you are caught.
That said, there is one difference. If you are arrested at a checkpoint for driving without a license, your car will be impounded for 30 days, regardless of whether or not you were impaired. This is the one penalty that distinguishes checkpoint arrests...and one that has generated quite a bit of controversy (discussed below in Section 3.1. The financial incentive behind driver's license checkpoints).
In this article, our California DUI defense attorneys1 explain the laws that regulate California sobriety checkpoints by addressing the following:
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
You may also find helpful information in our related articles on California DUI Laws; Vehicle Code 23152a California's Driving Under the Influence Law; Driving Under the Influence of Drugs; Drug Paraphernalia; California DUI Field Sobriety Tests "FSTs"; Probable Cause to Initiate a California DUI Investigation; California Legal Defenses; California DUI Defenses; The Penalties for a California DUI Conviction; Driving Without a License; Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License; and Nevada DUI Checkpoints.
A California DUI checkpoint provides officers with a scheduled opportunity to screen drivers to determine whether or not they are under the influence. This is one of the exceptions to the rule that an officer must have probable cause to initiate a California DUI investigation . And while the politically correct "stated" purpose of a DUI checkpoint is to deter drunk drivers 2, we know better...it's to arrest drunk drivers.
The law enforcement agency that is operating the checkpoint will section off a portion of the road so that drivers ultimately merge into one or two lanes before coming to a stop. The officer asks the driver to roll down his/her window so that they can engage in a brief discussion. This dialogue allows the officer to evaluate whether he/she believes the driver may be driving under the influence.
Specifically, the officer is looking to see whether or not the driver fumbles when asked for his/her license and registration, and whether the officer
If the officer believes that the driver is impaired, he/she will direct the suspect to an area to perform California DUI field sobriety tests "FSTs" At that point, a typical drunk driving investigation will ensue. At the conclusion of the investigation, the officer will immediately arrest the driver if he/she believes that the driver is driving under the influence of alcohol or driving under the influence of drugs "DUID" in violation of California law .
And not only is the officer looking to see if the driver fumbles when looking for his/her driver's license, the officer is also checking to see if the driver has a driver's license. Drivers who are driving without a license in California or who are driving on a suspended or revoked California driver's license may also be arrested. This topic is further addressed in Section 3.1. The financial incentive behind driver's license checkpoints.
But just because a driver is arrested at a DUI sobriety checkpoint...even if he/she actually was driving under the influence...does not mean that he/she will necessarily be convicted of the offense.
This is because experienced California DUI defense attorneys know that if the officers do not follow strict rules and regulations with respect to these checkpoints, any arrests that they make will be considered unlawful. And if an arrest is unlawful, the subsequent charges will most likely be dismissed.
In Ingersoll v. Palmer...the landmark DUI checkpoint case...the California Supreme Court ruled that sobriety checkpoints must adhere to specific requirements in order to be constitutionally recognized.3
If they do not, your California DUI defense attorney may be able to have your DUI charges reduced or even dismissed. These requirements relate to:
Supervising officers (as opposed to field officers) must determine where, how, and when California sobriety checkpoints will operate.4 Supervising officers usually determine where these checkpoints will be held based on what areas have the highest concentration of DUI-related accidents and/or arrests.
This regulation also includes establishing the criteria for how cars will be stopped. For example, the supervising officers must determine ahead of time whether field officers will stop every car, every third car, every fifth car, etc. 5
The location of the DUI roadblock must be reasonable. This means that the sobriety checkpoint must be in a location where there is a high incidence of DUI-related accidents or arrests. It also means that the supervising officers must consider everyone's safety when choosing where to set up a sobriety checkpoint.6
California sobriety checkpoints must be publically advertised prior to the date of the roadblock and clearly visible to approaching drivers. With respect to advertising, law enforcement websites, local newspapers, and news stations often report the upcoming checkpoint about a week prior to its operation.
With respect to visibility,
typically satisfy this requirement.7
Perhaps one of the most interesting requirements is that you must have the opportunity to drive away from the checkpoint if you don't wish to stop. If you choose to exercise this right, you cannot legally be stopped for doing so unless you (1) commit a traffic violation, or (2) display signs of obvious intoxication.8
As San Bernardino DUI defense attorney Michael Scafiddi9 explains, "When I have a client who is arrested at a California DUI checkpoint, I not only investigate the charge that he/she was driving under the influence...by exploring all the 'typical' California DUI defenses ...but I also critically examine the sobriety checkpoint itself to see if all of the legal requirements that relate to these DUI traps are satisfied. When they are not, I may be able to use these fatal flaws to get the drunk driving case dismissed."
DUI / driver's license checkpoints are very controversial. Proponents claim that they act as a scare tactic and reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road. Opponents typically claim that they
Because this topic generates so much buzz, there always seems to be some issue relating to checkpoints in the news. Here are a couple of the most recent.
Earlier this year, the University of California, Berkeley reported that in 2009, DUI / driver's license checkpoints generated approximately $40 million in revenue that was split between local law enforcement agencies and their local towing companies.
Every time an individual is arrested at a California DUI / driver's license checkpoint for driving without a license or for driving with a suspended license , the officers conducting the checkpoint immediately impound the driver's car for 30 days. It then costs, on average, between $1,000 and $4,000 to have the car returned. The tow company splits this income with the city.
In 2009, about 24,000 cars were seized at checkpoints. That was up from 18,000 in 2008 and 16,000 in 2007.
Opponents argue that these seizures unfairly target undocumented Hispanic immigrants who are not permitted to obtain driver's licenses but who need cars for work.
Challengers also argue that these checkpoints are illegal and unconstitutional. This is based on a 2005 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal decision which held that it is an "unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment to impound a vehicle if the only justification is that the driver is unlicensed".10
Yet in the five years since that decision, the number of cars seized at these checkpoints has doubled.11 And opponents state that the reason why is obvious - money.
It bears repeating that California DUI law dictates that sobriety / driver's license checkpoints must be publically advertised prior to their operation. As a result of this requirement, many people, law firms, businesses, etc. share this information once it becomes available...it gives a "heads up" to those who are not "in the know".
Oftentimes, this information is disseminated via the Internet, primarily on blog sites. Most recently, it is being offered in a "Smartphone" application. Some lawmakers were outraged and called attention to the issue, asking the creators of the "app" to take it off the market. As a result of the media attention, sales went through the roof!
The fact remains that the public is entitled to this information, so unless the legislature intends to repeal this requirement, it should not matter how or where checkpoints are advertised. That said, checkpoint publicity is sure to remain a hot topic.
If you have additional questions about how California DUI laws relate to sobriety checkpoints, or you would like to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California DUI defense attorneys, please don't hesitate to contact us.
We have local DUI law offices in Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange County, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
Additionally, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys are available to answer any questions about Nevada's DUI sobriety checkpoints. And just like here in California, if Nevada's checkpoints do not adhere to strict laws, the arrests that are made at these roadblocks will be declared illegal. For more information, we invite you to contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.12
1 Our California DUI defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier. We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
2 Ingersoll v. Palmer (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1321, 1335. ("However, the sobriety checkpoint here was operated not for the primary purpose of discovering or preserving evidence of crime or arresting lawbreakers, but primarily for the regulatory purpose of keeping intoxicated drivers off the highways to the end of enhancing public safety.")
3 The California Supreme held in Ingersoll v. Palmer (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1321, that as long as certain "functional requirements" are met, the intrusiveness of California DUI checkpoints is minimized, thereby authorizing their legal operation.
4 See Ingersoll, endnote 1 above at 1341. ("The decision to establish a sobriety checkpoint, the selection of the site and the procedures for the checkpoint operation should be made and established by supervisory law enforcement personnel, and not by an officer in the field. This requirement is important to reduce the potential for arbitrary and capricious enforcement.")
5 See same at 1342. ("A related concern is that motorists should not be subject to the unbridled discretion of the officer in the field as to who is to be stopped. Instead, a neutral formula such as every driver or every third, fifth or tenth driver should be employed.")
6 See same at 1343. ("The location of checkpoints should be determined by policy-making officials rather than by officers in the field. The sites chosen should be those which will be most effective in achieving the governmental interest; i.e., on roads having a high incidence of alcohol related accidents and/or arrests. (See State v. Coccomo, supra, 427 A.2d 131, 134.) Safety factors must also be considered in choosing an appropriate location.")
7 See same at 1346. ("Advance publicity is important to the maintenance of a constitutionally permissible sobriety checkpoint. Publicity both reduces the intrusiveness of the stop and increases the deterrent effect of the roadblock.") See also 1345. ("The roadblock should be established with high visibility, including warning signs, flashing lights, adequate lighting, police vehicles and the presence of uniformed officers. Not only are such factors important for safety reasons, advance warning will reassure motorists that the stop is duly authorized.")
8 See same at 1336. ("Checkpoint personnel were specifically instructed that drivers were not to be stopped merely for avoiding the checkpoint.FN5 The road sign announcing the checkpoint was placed sufficiently in advance of the checkpoint that motorists could choose to avoid the checkpoint. FN5 Cars avoiding the checkpoint would be stopped, however, if in avoiding the checkpoint the driver did anything unlawful, or exhibited obvious signs of impairment.")
9 San Bernardino criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi is a former DUI enforcement officer who now defends clients throughout the Inland Empire including Hemet, Palm Springs, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside and San Bernardino.
11 Section 3.1. was based on a PBS Special: DUI Checkpoints Meet Rising Skepticism
12 Please feel free to contact our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys Michael Becker and Mike Castillo for any questions relating to Nevada's DUI sobriety checkpoints. Our Nevada law offices are located in Reno and Las Vegas.
If you or a loved one faces misdemeanor or felony charges, contact our California criminal defense attorneys for help. We'd be glad to meet with you for a free consultation at one of our local criminal law offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Van Nuys, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino or Riverside.
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