Day after day, our local government units and concerned organizations alike have emphasized the importance of having a clear head when getting behind the wheel. If you drive while high or drunk, you’re more than likely to get involved in a fatal crash — it is a statistical fact. One may think that this information is easy to comprehend, but apparently, it is not. Unfortunately, some people fail to see the dangers of DUI. Consequently, this erratic and impulsive behavior will put both the driver and other people at risk of injuries and even death.
Studies show that eight cities in California belong in the top 25 list for cities with the highest number of DUI cases in the country. Indeed, that figure is truly worrisome. To curb that number, the state of California has imposed DUI checkpoints to operate on a section of the highway or street. Furthermore, California Vehicle Code VC 2914.2(a) mandates all drivers to consent to a sobriety screening when passing through the DUI checkpoints. While such an initiative looks harmless, there seems to be much of a debate as to the legality of these inspections, with people questioning its validity. Much of their confusion and skepticism stems from the anecdotes that most checkpoints are lacking certain requirements and not following the proper protocol for conducting a sobriety check. Given the dubiety, the question “are DUI checkpoints legal?” emerged.
As stated before, DUI checkpoints are permitted under VC 2914.2(a), making DUI checkpoints constitutional and legal. The only time they become “unlawful” is when they do not adhere to the prescribed guidelines and procedures set by the law. Below are the rules that law enforcement must follow when setting up DUI checkpoints:
- Supervising officers shall be the ones who will decide where, when, and how the DUI checkpoints will operate;
- The method of deciding which car to stop must follow a certain mathematical algorithm (i.e.: checking every 10th car, or 2 consecutive cars out of 4);
- The checkpoint must be strategically placed in an area notorious for DUI-related accidents;
- Officers must employ safety precautionary methods such as putting up warning signs, posting comprehensible street layouts, or subtle but noticeable lights;
- The duration of the checkpoints must be strategically planned in a way that it will not disrupt or annoy drivers;
- Vehicle operators should be detained for a reasonable amount of time. That is, if the driver shows no signs of intoxication or other suspicious behavior, then he/she should be allowed to press on without further delay; and
- Checkpoint officers should at least put up adequate public notice while or before the actual sobriety check.
Observing these requirements or guidelines is not the only concern in this context. What the officer should only look for in a DUI checkpoint, for instance, should also be addressed. Listed below are the common signs that police officers usually look for when conducting a sobriety check:
- Erratic behavior;
- The scent of alcohol;
- Slurred speech;
- Bloodshot eyes;
- Suspicious body language; and
- Physical evidence such as bottles of alcoholic beverages, sachets of marijuana, etc.
Should there be enough evidence to suspect that the driver may be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, then the officer may take the next step which is to:
- Conduct a DUI cheek/mouth swab test;
- Perform field sobriety tests (Fsts); or
- Use breathalyzer;
If the results of the test prove that the driver is DUI, then charges such as DUI, DUID, or underage DUI may be filed.
Punishments under California Vehicle Code VC 2914.2(a)
It is illegal for anyone to decline inspection in a DUI checkpoint. You are, however, allowed to intentionally steer clear of a DUI checkpoint for as long as it is done in a safe and legal manner. For instance, if the driver decides to make a U-turn to avoid a DUI checkpoint despite a sign saying that it U-Turns are not allowed, then the driver will still be arrested. Making a U-Turn in a No U-turn spot is a violation of California Vehicle Code VC 22100.5. The charges may not necessarily be related to the DUI checkpoint, but the officer may press charges of intoxicated driving if the driver is also found to be driving while under the influence of drugs.
Meanwhile, one you are at the checkpoint, you are legally obliged to follow the officer’s commands. Otherwise, you will be facing an infraction lawsuit.
Legal Assistance for Unlawful DUI Checkpoints
Perhaps you or someone you know has been unlawfully detained or checked in a DUI checkpoint who blatantly disobeys the law. If so, please get a defense lawyer by your side immediately. They will be able to challenge their clients’ arrest by raising the right questions and using the best defenses.