A DUI checkpoint is also known as a sobriety checkpoint or DUI roadblock. At this checkpoint, the police stop drivers using a particular sequence to check whether the drivers are sober. According to California law, law enforcement officers do not require probable cause to tell you to stop at a checkpoint.  If you are arrested at a DUI checkpoint, San Jose DUI Attorney Law Firm can help you to challenge the arrest on constitutional grounds.  For instance, you may challenge the arrest if the DUI checkpoint did not meet all the necessary specifications as outlined by the law. 

Overview of DUI Checkpoints in California

A DUI checkpoint must meet certain specifications in accordance with California law. For instance, the police must follow neutral criteria whenever they are stopping motorists at a checkpoint. The location of a DUI checkpoint should be reasonable. The duration and time of the checkpoint should portray good judgment. Before setting up a DUI checkpoint, the law requires the roadblocks to be advertised or announced in advance.  After arresting at a driver at a DUI checkpoint, the police should detain the driver for a minimal length of time.  The supervising officers must make all the operational decisions at a DUI checkpoint, and adequate safety precautions must be followed at the checkpoint.

If the police arrest you at a checkpoint that does not meet all the requirements, you may challenge the arrest in court. 

Are DUI Checkpoints Lawful?

You may be wondering whether DUI roadblocks are lawful or constitutional.  Both the U.S. and the California constitution recognize DUI checkpoints and consider them legal.  According to the Supreme Court in California, DUI roadblocks are statutory administrative inspections, and they fall under the same category as airport screenings. The checkpoints are exempted from the Fourth Amendment statute. The fourth amendment statute states that a police officer ought to have a probable cause for stopping a motor vehicle and initiating a DUI investigation on a driver. 

Usually, the police set up the sobriety checkpoints on a section of the highway.  Before coming to a stop at a sobriety checkpoint, the vehicles combine into a single or double lane. After stopping your vehicle, the law enforcement officer requests you lower your window. The police will then request your registration and your driver's license.  For the police to establish if you are under the influence, he/she may engage you in a discussion. Depending on how you respond and your body language, the police can easily determine whether you are under the influence of alcohol. 

How Can the Police Know that you are Under the Influence?

Upon engaging you in a conversation and requesting for your driver's license, the police will observe you closely to see how you respond.  If you are restless and you fumble when retrieving your registration and your driver's license, it may be an indication that you are under the influence. The police may also tell that you are under the influence if you smell of alcohol. If you stammer or have difficulties answering the questions posed by the police officer, it may be an indication that you are under the influence of alcohol.

The police may look for signs of impairment and make a judgment based on the items present in your vehicle.  The presence of alcoholic beverages in your vehicle may be a sign of intoxication. The police may also look out for drugs or drug-related paraphernalia in your vehicle.  If the police officer has enough grounds to suspect that you are under the influence, he may recommend a DUI test or a drug test. For the police to determine if drugs are present in your system, the police may carry out several tests, including:

 Mouth Swab Tests

The law enforcement officers use a mouth swab test to check if drugs are present in your system.  The police may use a mouth swab test if he/she suspects that you are operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs (DUID). Even if you refuse to take the mouth swab test, the police may still arrest you if they have a probable or reasonable cause to believe that you are under the influence.  Other tests, like breathalyzer tests or blood tests, may not detect the presence of drugs in a driver's system or maybe inadequate in detecting drugs in a driver's system. 

By using a mouth swab test, the police can be able to detect seven specific drugs, including cocaine and marijuana. The mouth swab tests only help to establish the presence of drugs in a person's system but do not help to determine the amount or the level of drugs in the system. In order to determine the level of drugs in a driver's system, the police rely on blood tests.  If a driver refuses to submit to blood tests and other chemical tests, he/she may face additional charges.  Police may still arrest a driver even after getting a negative test as long as the police believe that the driver is intoxicated.

Field Sobriety Tests

At a DUI checkpoint, the police may use several sobriety tests to determine whether a driver is intoxicated.  FST (Field sobriety tests) consist of several mental and physical exercises that the police use to conduct DUI investigations. If you perform poorly on FSTs, it may be an indication that you are under the influence. The police greatly rely on FSTs conducted at DUI checkpoints while deciding whether to arrest a driver or not. Different field sobriety tests have different accuracy levels of determining intoxication. One leg stand has an accuracy level of 83% while the walk and turn test has an accuracy level of 79%. The Horizontal gaze nystagmus has an accuracy level of 88%.

PAS Tests (Preliminary Alcohol Screening)

At a DUI checkpoint in California, the police may use two tests to establish your BAC (blood alcohol concentration). The police may carry out a pre-arrest PAS (preliminary alcohol screening) test. The police may also carry out a California DUI breath test or California DUI blood test. The PAS test is not mandatory unless you are below 21 years and the police suspect that you have violated the California driving under the influence law. The PAS test may also be mandatory if you are currently on DUI probation for committing a prior California DUI offense. If you are not under the two-mentioned categories, you do not have to undergo a preliminary screening test. Undergoing a PAS test may raise evidence that the police may use against you in court. Therefore, most drivers do not submit to a PAS test at DUI checkpoints but politely decline to undergo the test. It is important to note that unlike in the case of a PAS test, refusing to undergo a chemical test may have some implications. If you refuse to undertake a post-arrest DUI chemical test, the consequences may include loss of your driver's license. You may also face other severe DUI penalties under the California law. 

In order to test for marijuana and other drugs, the police may ask a driver to submit to a cheek swab test at a DUI checkpoint.  Depending on the outcome of the DUI and drug tests, the police may have a probable cause to believe that you are while intoxicated. If you are intoxicated with alcohol or drugs, the police may charge you under Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC for driving while intoxicated. The police may also charge you under Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC for operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or more.  You may face charges under the California Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC for operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs. You may also face charges for underage DUI. Other crimes that the police may charge you with a DUI checkpoint include DUI offenses while operating commercial vehicles.

Regulations for DUI Checkpoints in California

When determining whether a DUI checkpoint is legal in California, the court looks at eight main factors. There is no minimum set number of factors that the law considered in determining whether a DUI checkpoint is legal. It is important to note that a DUI checkpoint is legal and constitutional. It is the failure of the police to follow strict DUI checkpoints procedures that render the DUI checkpoints unconstitutional. When determining whether a DUI checkpoint is legal, the court tries to balance two factors. The court tries to balance the objective of the state in fighting vehicle operation while drunk. The court also seeks to discourage subjective/unlawful intrusion on drivers by law enforcement officers, as this may lead to the generation of fear and surprise among motorists. 

Whenever an attorney gets a client arrested at a DUI checkpoint in California, the attorney normally has one aim.  To carefully analyze the DUI checkpoint and identify any lapses, the attorney determines whether there are legal requirements of a DUI checkpoint that the police did not adhere to.  If all the DUI checkpoint requirements are not met, an attorney may succeed in fighting in court and have the court dismiss charges against you.  

 Functional Guidelines for Determining if a DUI Checkpoint is Legal

The Supreme Court in California follows eight guidelines in determining whether a DUI checkpoint is legal and constitutional.  Some of the factors that the court considers when deciding whether a checkpoint is legal to include: 

Person Responsible for Making Operational Decisions –At a DUI checkpoint in California, the supervising officer should make all the operational decisions. The field officers are not responsible for making operational decisions.  The role of the supervising officers is to determine how, when, and where the California DUI roadblocks will function. This factor helps to minimize the chances for capricious or arbitrary enforcement.

Neutral Criteria for Requesting Motorists to Stop- It is the role of the supervising officers to determine in advance the sequence to use while stopping vehicles. The field officers are not responsible for making this decision and should not stop vehicles haphazardly. When determining which vehicles to stop at a DUI checkpoint, supervising officers have to use neutral criteria (mathematical selection). For instance, the officers may decide to stop every fifth vehicle or use any other criteria.  It is illegal for the officers to stop only particular models of vehicles, for instance. It is also illegal for officers to stop vehicles being operated by drivers of a particular ethnic background. 

Location of the DUI Checkpoint- California law requires DUI checkpoints to be located at reasonable places.  For instance, DUI checkpoints should be located at a position where there is a key likelihood of DUI arrests or accidents related to DUI.

Safety Precautions at a DUI CheckPoint- When deciding the location of a DUI checkpoint in California, the supervising officers must take the necessary precautions. For instance, the officers must consider various factors, including the traffic patterns and the layout of the street. The law also requires the supervising officers to ensure that the DUI checkpoint is clearly displayed to the approaching motorists.  

Use of Good Judgment While Setting a DUI Checkpoint-When setting up a DUI checkpoint and while determining the time of day and the duration for setting the checkpoint, the supervising officers should use good judgment.  The court weighs the effectiveness of DUI checkpoints against the law officer's intrusiveness to motorists. 

Official Nature of the DUI Checkpoint –According to California law, a DUI checkpoint should portray its official status. For instance, the DUI checkpoint should be set in such a manner that motorists are able to see it from a distance. This will help to minimize the fear of the drivers who abide by the law. When determining the official status of a DUI checkpoint, the court may consider the presence of warning signs, marked police vehicles, flashing lights, and the presence of an officially uniformed law enforcement officers. 

Detention of Drivers –California law requires law enforcement officers to detain drivers for a minimum period of time at a DUI checkpoint.  The period of detaining a driver should be brief but adequate for the law enforcement officer to interrogate the driver while looking for signs of intoxication. The common signs of intoxication may include bloodshot eyes, uncoordinated speech, and smell of alcohol in the driver's breath. If a driver does not portray signs of intoxication, the police should allow the driver to proceed without delaying him further. If the police are to conduct further investigations or DUI tests on a driver, the tests should be guided by reasonable suspicion or probable cause. 

Advertising of DUI Roadblocks –In accordance with California law, DUI roadblocks should be publicized/ advertised in advance.  However, it is essential to note that the failure to advertise in advance does not make a DUI checkpoint unconstitutional. In most cases, law enforcement officers advertise DUI checkpoints about one week prior to the setting up of the checkpoint. 

Where can you find notice of an upcoming DUI checkpoint? You may find the notice in police websites and local media stations. You may also learn about an upcoming DUI checkpoint through local newspapers and advertising. 

Avoiding a DUI Checkpoint

If you notice a DUI checkpoint at a distance, can you make a U-turn at the DUI checkpoint? The California law does not prohibit a driver from avoiding/evading a DUI checkpoint. Therefore, you can always make a turn and take an alternative route. However, when you are avoiding a DUI roadblock, you have to ensure that it is safe for other road users.  Police agencies provide enough information to drivers and give than adequate warning to avoid a DUI checkpoint. In addition, it is against the law for law enforcement officers to stop a driver because the driver avoided a DUI checkpoint. 

However, it is important to note that the police may pull you over while avoiding/evading a DUI checkpoint by applying the normal traffic rules. For instance, the police may stop your vehicle if you commit a violation of traffic laws. If your vehicle has a defect like faulty tail lights, the police may stop you. The police may also stop your vehicle even after evading a DUI checkpoint if you portray obvious signs of intoxication. 

Refusing to Cooperate at a DUI Checkpoint

According to California law under Vehicle Code 2814.2(a) VC, you are supposed to stop your vehicle and undergo California DUI checkpoint if a law enforcement officer requests you to stop. Therefore, if you are already at a DUI checkpoint, you cannot refuse to submit to the instructions of the officer. If you fail to comply with the instructions of law enforcement at a DUI checkpoint, you may face infraction charges. However, this requirement does not imply that you to submit to all pre-arrest DUI and drug tests, including cheek and mouth swabs or breath tests. The pre-arrest tests are optional, and you can object undertaking the tests without facing penalties for your actions. However, you should be aware that even if you refuse to submit to the tests, the police may still arrest you if they believe that you are intoxicated. 

If the law enforcement officers lawfully arrest you, you may face chemical test refusal charges if you refuse to submit to a DUI blood test or DUI breath test. You may face several consequences for post-arrest test refusal, including suspension of your driver's license for one year.

What if you do not have your driver's license at a DUI checkpoint? The police will first consider whether you legally hold a driver's license only that you do not have with you. The police will also consider whether you do not have a valid license.  If your driver's license is not on your person or in your vehicle, you may face charges for failing to display/show a driver's license under the California Vehicle Code 12951. This offense is an infraction under California law, and the penalty may include paying a fine.  If you later assert you had a valid license during the time of arrest, the officers may dismiss your charges.

If the law enforcement officers realize that you do not have a license at the DUI checkpoint, and it is evident that you do not hold a valid driver's license, you may face enhanced charges.  You may face charges for driving without a valid driver's license, according to the California Vehicle Code 12500. You may also face charges for driving on a suspended driver's license, according to the California Vehicle Code 14601. 

The law enforcement officers may not impound your vehicle at a DUI checkpoint if you only have one charge against you. The vehicle is also not impounded if the legal owner of the car authorizes vehicle release to a driver with a valid license at the completion of the DUI checkpoint. 

Applications that Warn Drivers of Upcoming Checkpoints

Countless apps in the market often claim to alert motorists of upcoming DUI checkpoints. There is a popular traffic date app named Waze that claims to notify drivers of the location of the police, including the location of DUI roadblocks. However, it is important to note that the data used by the app is generated based on user data. This means that the data may not be very comprehensive and accurate. The effectiveness of the apps depends on the state of the law and how often the publisher updates the apps.

At some point, Apple, a leading manufacturer of iPhones, banned the selling of apps that warn people about DUI checkpoints. The ban applied to apps that are not published and approved by law enforcement agencies.  There was a ban on all apps that tend to enable or to encourage people to indulge in drunk driving.  There was a concern by senators in the United States that the usage of apps was enabling drunk drivers to evade DUI checkpoints. However, a recent study by Google revealed that people still rely on apps to determine the location of police and DUI checkpoints. 

If you are wondering how effective DUI roadblocks are, statistics reveal that, to some extent, the checkpoints are effective. For instance, in June 2018, a DUI checkpoint set up in Santa Maria led to 9 arrests after the police screened 481 vehicles. However, of the nine arrests, only one was for DUI as the rest were for license violations.

Contact a San Jose DUI Lawyer Near Me

If you are facing charges for a DUI checkpoint arrest, San Jose DUI Attorney Law Firm can help you fight the charges. Our attorneys will analyze the DUI checkpoint and identify areas where the police may not have met the checkpoint requirements. Contact us at 408-777-6630 and speak to one of our attorneys today.