*Updated 12/21/21

In the state of California as well as other states, DUI checkpoints are a normal routine. Law enforcement departments often set up checkpoints to conduct screening processes on drivers who may be driving under the influence of alcohol or any other illegal substance. As motorists, it is important to know exactly what DUI checkpoints entail and the legalities involved.

Are DUI Checkpoints in California Legal?

As Americans we’re always prone to point out our constitutional rights, especially where law enforcement is involved. In a nutshell, DUI checkpoints are constitutional and legal in both the state and federal levels. In Ingersoll v. Palmer, the US Supreme court ruled that DUI checkpoints do not infringe on one’s Fourth Amendment right. The Court also noted that DUI checkpoints do not require officers to have probable cause when stopping motorists. In comparison, the Supreme Court gave an example of airport screening which is an administrative operation intended for public safety. Regardless of this, California law still requires law enforcement officers and departments to adhere to the laws and regulations involved in conducting checks at DUI checkpoints.

Legal Requirements and Regulations for Conducting DUI Checks

In Ingersoll V. Palmer, the Supreme Court gave provisions on how law enforcement should conduct DUI checkpoints. These regulations were meant to limit the intrusive nature of screening process so as not to infringe on one’s rights.

  1. Role of Supervisory Personnel

When deciding to set up DUI checkpoints, a person holding a supervisory position in law enforcement must come up with a clear operational process. This regulation was put in place to limit officers at the field from abusing their privileges. Officers in supervisory procedures include the county sheriff and the Commander of Traffic Enforcement Division of the police department. The law requires these officers to declare the steps they will use to set up and conduct the checks.

  1. Be Neutral and Unbiased when Selecting Vehicles

The law requires officers to maintain a neutral position when selecting motorists for screening. The decision to stop or detain a vehicle must be set upon a mathematical selection formula. Randomness is discouraged as proving unbiasedness may be difficult. For instance, officers can decide to stop all vehicles at the checkpoint, every two vehicles while letting other two vehicles pass or every five vehicles and so on. Stopping vehicles should not be upon an officer’s own determination.

  1. Safety

When setting up DUI checkpoints, officers should ensure that they meet the safety requirements. Law enforcement should give primary consideration to the safety of the public. Checkpoints should be placed where motorists can stop and navigate through while accommodating a moderate flow of traffic.

  1. Reasonable Location

The Supreme also stipulated that law enforcement should place DUI checkpoints at strategic points where DUI incidences are high. However, the law does not require officers to set up checkpoints on a permanent basis but can change randomly if the public is forewarned.

  1. Time and Duration

There is no limit as to how long officers can detain motorists as long as the burden is not substantial. This means that officers can set up checkpoints at any time of the day and for however long is necessary.

  1. Proper Signage of Checkpoint

Checkpoints must be visible by motorists from a great distance. An advance warning to the motorists shows that the checkpoints have gone through appropriate procedures to receive authorization. Proper signage includes warning signs, flashing lights, and uniformed officers.

  1. Length and Nature of Detention

When detaining motorists, officers should ensure that they use as little time as possible. This ensures that detainment does not get too intrusive while ensuring traffic flow is smooth. The length of time on any given motorists should be brief enough for questioning and checking for any possible signs of drug and substance influence.

  1. Advance Notice

Law enforcement institutions are advised to make public announcements about any DUI checkpoints in their schedule. Making a public announcement beforehand helps decrease the intrusive nature of screening processes and can also help deter motorists from risky behaviors like drunk driving. Keep in mind that the law does not require law enforcement to give a public notice (People v. Banks (1993)).

Can One Turn Around to Avoid a Checkpoint?

The good news is, the law equally does not make going through a DUI checkpoint mandatory for motorists. In the event a motorist is aware of a checkpoint ahead, they can turn around so long as they do not stray from normal traffic regulations or make a traffic infraction in order to avoid the checkpoint.

Departmental rules also prohibit officers from stopping motorists who decide to avoid a checkpoint so long as they follow traffic regulations. On the other hand, once a motorist has arrived at the checkpoint, the law requires them to stop and submit to the officer’s lawful commands (California Code, Vehicle Code – VEH § 2814.2 (a)). This includes producing your license and registration upon request. Failure to do so will be an infraction and the officers can arrest you. It should be noted that if a motorist avoids a checkpoint and breaks a traffic law in the process, the police are within their rights to stop the individual.

If you’re pulled over on suspicion of DUI, here’s what you need to know about submitting to a breathalyzer test in California.

Despite the general fear and tension that accompanies DUI checkpoints, they serve a crucial role in ensuring that the roads stay safe. The police are not out to get you unless you. Cooperating ensures a speedy process. However, in the event you are arrested for DUI at a checkpoint, it is best to contact an experienced attorney like Don Hammond who has achieved numerous success in similar cases.