On a recent Friday night, the San Diego County Sheriff’s office held a DUI checkpoint in Poway. Deputies set up at an intersection and stopped passing motorists to check them for possible alcohol and/or marijuana impairment, as well as suspended or revoked driver’s licenses.
You probably know that the police are not supposed to pull over drivers unless they have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that they are committing a crime, such as drinking and driving. The Fourth Amendment prohibits warrantless searches and seizures, including random traffic stops. So how can San Diego sheriff’s deputies (and law enforcement across the country) conduct DUI checkpoints that don’t violate the public’s Constitutional rights?
An exception to the rule
As with most of our civil rights, there are exceptions. State law requires drivers in California to submit to officers at DUI checkpoints. The state supreme court has compared sobriety checkpoints to security screenings at the airport and considers them administrative, not criminal, law enforcement. Thus, the usual reasonable suspicion requirement to detain and investigate a motorist does not apply.
Closely regulated checkpoints
However, police must follow certain regulations or an arrest made at the scene could be invalidated. These rules include:
- Officers must post clearly marked warning signs and flashing lights notifying drivers they must stop.
- Officers must use a neutral standard for choosing whom to stop, such as every third vehicle. Stopping drivers based on their race, gender or the kind of car they are driving are not acceptable standards.
- The checkpoint must occur in a reasonable location known for DUI car accidents or arrests.
- The timing and duration of the checkpoint must reflect “good judgment” by the supervising officer.
- The checkpoint must minimize intrusion as much as possible. Officers cannot stop a motorist for longer than necessary to check for signs of impairment and ask them a few questions.
- The law enforcement agency conducting the checkpoint must announce it ahead of time in the local news and on its website.
If you were arrested for DUI at a checkpoint and have questions about how it was conducted, discuss them with a defense attorney. Your lawyer can investigate what happened for signs of illegal misconduct. If they find signs of an improper stop and arrest, they can challenge the evidence in court.