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Why are DUI checkpoints legal in California?

On Behalf of | Apr 14, 2020 | DUI |

DUI checkpoints are a powerful tool used by law enforcement throughout California to try to catch motorists in the act of drinking and driving. Officers set up these temporary checkpoints at various intersections, forcing drivers to stop, answer questions from the police and possibly submit to breath and field sobriety tests. If the officers decide a driver has failed any of these tests, they could arrest the person for DUI.

When a California Highway Patrol trooper or local police officer is patrolling the highways and streets, the rules are quite different. Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, an officer must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred or is occurring in your vehicle before they can force you to pull over. Evidence supporting a reasonable suspicion can include a vehicle that is weaving, stopping short or making sudden changes in speed.

But there is no reasonable suspicion requirement for DUI checkpoints in California. How can this exception to our Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure exist?

California Supreme Court’s Decision

It goes back to a 1987 decision by the California Supreme Court titled Ingersoll v. Palmer. In that case, the court ruled that DUI checkpoints do not constitute unreasonable search and seizure actions by the police under the Fourth Amendment or the California Constitution. The justices found that the purpose of checkpoints is to make the streets safer, not to capture criminals, thus making them akin to searches of passenger’s bodies and luggage at airports. In the end, the court ruled that the public safety concern outweighs Fourth Amendment protections, as long as law enforcement followed certain procedures to warn the public ahead of time and treat each motorist the same, regardless of factors such as race, gender and ethnicity.

Still, errors at DUI checkpoints happen, and you still have rights. If you were arrested for DUI at a checkpoint, you should consult a defense attorney as soon as possible, and before you plead guilty to the charges. If you have a professional license, your career could be at stake.

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