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California DUI CheckpointsCalifornia DUI Checkpoints - DUI Lawyer

Sobriety checkpoints are conducted by the police in order to catch those who are driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs on public streets and roadways.   California DUI law outlines specific guidelines that govern the operation of sobriety checkpointsFirst off, the public must receive advance notice of when a sobriety checkpoint is going to be set up by command law enforcement officers.  This notice is typically given by the placing of a notice in a local newspaper.  Secondly, the police must follow what is considered to be a “neutral mathematical formula” when selecting which vehicles to stop.  Additionally, the sobriety checkpoints must be safely maintained and highly visible, and the average time each motorist is detained must be minimized. 

Every driver stopped should only be detained long enough for the police officer to speak with the person briefly and look for any signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, glassy or bloodshot eyes, or alcohol odor.  If the driver does not exhibit any such signs, he or she should be permitted to move on without further delay.  If, however, the officer does observe any signs of possible impairment, then the police officer has the right to have the driver move to a separate area for field sobriety testing.  At that point, a driving under the influence (DUI) investigation will begin.

The courts have held that stopping a vehicle at a sobriety checkpoint/roadblock does constitute a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment.  It has been noted that a seizure under the Fourth Amendment occurs “when there is a governmental termination of freedom of movement through means intentionally applied.”  The key issue here is “reasonableness,” and it should be noted that not all roadblocks violate this Fourth Amendment right.  However, it certainly opens the door for evidence suppression for California DUI/DWI attorneys.  

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Legal Requirements for California DUI Sobriety Checkpoints

It has been ruled by the Supreme Court that the primary purpose of sobriety check points is not to discover evidence of an offense or to even make drunk driving arrests, but rather to promote public safety by stopping intoxicated individuals from endangering the public and driving.  What this means is that a  California DUI sobriety checkpoint serves as a regulatory purpose and one that does not require warrants because it is not a criminal investigation. DUI Checkpoints California - DUI Checkpoint Laws CA  

California Drunk Driving law and the courts have outlined strict procedures that must be followed when it comes to sobriety checkpoints.  The police must provide advance notice to the public of the sobriety checkpoint; however, they are not required to provide notice of the exact location.  This advance notice serves to establish legitimacy for the roadblock and helps to reduce the intrusiveness of the stop.  The decision behind providing notice is to limit intrusion upon one’s personal dignity and security by allowing those who are stopped to anticipate a stop.

The Ingersoll vs. Palmer Ruling

In the landmark Supreme Court case Ingersoll vs. Palmer, certain protocol must be followed if the checkpoint is to be considered lawful.  Otherwise, any evidence gathered during a driving under the influence arrest may not be admissible in court.  According to the Ingersoll ruling, supervisory police officers, not officers in the field, must be the officers who set up sobriety checkpoints. This is an important requirement whereby the potential for arbitrary and random police enforcement is reduced. 

Additionally, the Ingersoll ruling also places limitations on the police as to how and when drivers should be stopped.  They must utilize a neutral mathematical formulation, such as stopping every driver, or every second, fourth, or tenth driver.  This way it is not left up to the discretion of the police officer to select which drivers they should stop without having any legitimate cause.  In setting up sobriety checkpoints, the police must also consider the safety of both motorists and police officers.  In order to minimize risk, warning signs and signals, and proper lighting need to be placed at the scene as well as clearly identifiable police vehicles.  Also, the actual placing of roadblocks is regulated and the location must be one where a high incidence of alcohol-related accidents and arrests has already occurred.

It was also stated in the Ingersoll decision that drivers who seek to avoid a sobriety checkpoint may not be “stopped and detained” simply because they attempted to do so.  However, if a driver commits a traffic violation or exhibits obvious signs of intoxication, the police do have adequate cause to stop the motorist.  In such instances, an experienced  California DUI lawyer can sometimes successfully argue that such obvious signs did not exist and therefore the stop was unlawful and get any evidence gathered thereafter suppressed.   Although the Ingersoll decision helped to legitimize California DUI sobriety checkpoints, it also established strict procedures that must be followed by the police.  If the police fail to follow the factors outlined by the Supreme Court, any evidence obtained as a result of the sobriety checkpoint may be suppressed.  A knowledgeable  California DUI/DWI attorney can determine whether or not a sobriety checkpoint was conducted lawfully and if not, most often obtain a “not-guilty” verdict for clients who are suspected of drunk driving.

Find out more information regarding California DUI Checkpoints by clicking on the links below:

What happens when you are stopped without Probable Causes and DUI Legal Challenges for California Checkpoints.  

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