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Do I Have the Right to Refuse to go through a DUI Checkpoint?

Many people do not understand their rights while in a DUI checkpoint. Failing to understand your legal rights could lead to confusion while at a sobriety checkpoint. In California, DUI checkpoints, also known as sobriety checkpoints are a Law Enforcement act that aims at combating drunk driving. If you are not sure about your rights at a sobriety checkpoint, including whether you can refuse to stop at a checkpoint, you need legal counsel. Jonathan Franklin DUI Attorney provides reliable legal counsel in Los Angeles, CA.

Understanding a DUI Checkpoint

A sobriety checkpoint is similar to other types of static checkpoints in California. At a checkpoint, law enforcement officers screen vehicles and check whether drivers are intoxicated with alcohol or drugs. The officers often look for visible signs of impairment and verify that a driver has a valid driver's license. The officers could also confirm that a vehicle's registration number is current. However, the primary purpose of a DUI checkpoint is to check for impairment. The checkpoints act as an initiative for deterring drunk driving through visible police actions.

DUI checkpoints are unique because they are mobile and temporary. In most cases, the checkpoints exist only for a short period. However, despite the temporal nature of the checkpoints, officers must seek approval ahead of time before setting up a checkpoint. There must also be a valid justification for setting up a DUI checkpoint in a particular area.

The sobriety checkpoints are accompanied by specialized equipment for testing DUI; the law enforcement officers usually have a mobile testing unit. According to California, a DUI checkpoint has to be advertised ahead of time, mainly through the media. Advertising could be through social media, local newspapers, and other relevant media. In addition, the law requires the clear marking of the entrance to a DUI checkpoint; therefore, the checkpoints have conspicuous signage.

The legality of DUI Checkpoints

All the 50 states in the U.S have debated on the constitutionality of DUI checkpoints. Some states have upheld the legality of DUI checkpoints while other states have abolished the checkpoints. California law supports DUI checkpoints, and therefore, the checkpoints are legal. Before a law enforcement officer stops your vehicle, he/she must have a probable cause. For instance, an officer can stop your car after suspecting that you have committed a traffic violation. However, probable cause is not a requirement at a DUI checkpoint; an officer does not need to have a probable cause to stop your vehicle. However, the police have to stop vehicles based on a predetermined formula, like every third vehicle.

The law enforcement officers have a right to set up a DUI checkpoint. In most cases, officers set up checkpoints in the early morning hours, on weekends, or late at night. Law enforcement officers are more likely to set up DUI checkpoints in areas that have regular DUI arrests.

According to the California Supreme Court, sobriety checkpoints are administrative inspections, just like airport screenings. Therefore, the checkpoints are exempt from the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, an officer does need reasonable suspicion to initiate a DUI investigation.

For a DUI checkpoint to be legal in California, it has to abide by several requirements outlined by the law:

  • There should be limited use of discretion by the police; the police should have a predetermined pattern of stopping vehicles.
  • The sobriety checkpoints must be in areas with many cases of drunk driving.
  • The public must be aware of the presence of checkpoints through media, newspapers, or social media.
  • The police should only detain drivers for a short period at a checkpoint.

Refusing to Stop at a Checkpoint

Provided a DUI checkpoint is legal; you cannot refuse to stop at the checkpoint. Therefore, if you are passing through a checkpoint and an officer stops your vehicle, you have to comply. Running through the checkpoint without stopping would have detrimental consequences.

Can you turn around and avoid a DUI checkpoint? According to California law, the police have to inform the public before setting up a sobriety checkpoint. It is not illegal to turn around and avoid a DUI checkpoint. However, it could be extremely risky; if the law enforcement officers see you evading a DUI checkpoint, they have a right to pursue your vehicle and stop you.

Usually, law enforcement officers give drivers ample time and warning to help them avoid DUI checkpoints. Also, the officers cannot stop your vehicle because you avoided a DUI checkpoint. After all, this would be against the law. However, even if you avoid a checkpoint, normal traffic laws still apply. Therefore, the police may stop your vehicle if you commit a traffic violation. The police could also stop your vehicle if it has defects like broken tail lights. The police might stop your vehicle if you display apparent signs of intoxication.

Therefore, unless you avoid a checkpoint early enough, you should not turn around when you see a checkpoint. However, you can conduct online research before knowing the exact locations of DUI checkpoints at different times. By knowing about the location of checkpoints in advance, it will be easy for you to avoid them without raising suspicion.

There is no other way to evade a DUI checkpoint other than researching and avoiding routes with checkpoints. A conception about DUI checkpoints is that the checkpoints aim at producing arrests for drunk driving. Therefore, people criticize DUI checkpoints because of the resources used to set up the checkpoints, yet they do not yield numerous DUI arrests.

The argument is that the resources used in setting up the checkpoints could be put into better use elsewhere. Most drivers also fail to take the sobriety checkpoints seriously because of the great publicity and advertisement. For this reason, a majority of drivers assume that they can refuse to stop at a checkpoint.

The purpose of publicizing and advertising DUI checkpoints is to deter people from drinking and driving. DUI checkpoints aim at deterring drunk driving and not increasing DUI arrests. The prior advertising enables the checkpoint to elevate the risks of drunk driving arrests in drivers' minds to help discourage them from drinking. If a driver suspects that he/she is likely to get arrested for drunk driving, he/she is likely to avoid drinking.

Whether you agree with DUI checkpoints or not, you have to abide by the law and stop at a checkpoint. Despite the heightened criticism, there is ample evidence that checkpoints are effective in deterring impaired driving. Regular set up of DUI checkpoints in a particular area could reduce the risk of drunk driving in the area. The checkpoints do not reduce drunk driving near the checkpoint; instead, drivers avoid drinking if they think they are likely to run into a sobriety checkpoint.

Not all states in the U.S allow DUI checkpoints. Some states are against the checkpoints because they consider them a violation of people's Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment prohibits subjecting a person to an illegal search and seizure. However, there is a noticeable difference in the difference in drunk driving cases in states that allow checkpoints and states that do not allow the checkpoint. States that do not allow sobriety checkpoints have a relatively high number of DUI cases.

Your Rights at a DUI Checkpoint

Even if the law requires you to stop at a DUI checkpoint, it is essential to understand your rights. After stopping your vehicle at a checkpoint, the law enforcement officers have no right to search your person or your vehicle if they do not have probable cause. The police can also search you or your vehicle if you give them verbal consent.

If a lawful arrest has not occurred, you do not have to submit to field sobriety tests. You do not also have to submit to a search. After stopping in a DUI checkpoint, the officer will request you to lower your vehicle window. The officer is likely to question you and ask if you have been drinking. You do not have to answer these questions because you could end up incriminating yourself. However, you should understand that the officer has a right to question you to determine if you are intoxicated. Avoid answering questions that might incriminate you; however, answer the critical questions politely. You should not be arrogant and disrespectful because this might incriminate you further. If you come across as rude or condescending, the officer might aggravate your situation more. A driver who fails to comply with the officer's instructions could be guilty of an infraction.

What to Expect After a Stop at a DUI Checkpoint

When you stop at a DUI checkpoint, the police could request to see your registration and driver's license. The police will also engage you in a brief discussion while observing you closely. While engaging you in a conversation, the police will be keen to notice:

  • Smells of alcohol in your breath or your vehicle
  • Any form of fumbles as you handover your registration or driver's license
  • Trouble or difficulties answering the questions posed.
  • Presence of alcoholic beverages, empty alcohol bottles, or drug paraphernalia in the vehicle
  • Apparent signs of intoxication including watery or red eyes, slurred speech, or physical signs of intoxication

If there are some signs of intoxication, the law enforcement officer might request you to undertake a DUI test. For instance, the officer might request you to undertake field sobriety tests. The officer might also ask you to undergo a DUI mouth swab test if he/she suspects that you are under the influence of drugs. Other tests that an officer could administer include a PAS test or a DUI chemical test usually conducted using breathalyzer equipment.

Based on the outcome of the tests, the officer will have a basis to determine whether you are operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Vehicle Impoundment at a DUI Checkpoint

Before the passage of Assembly Bill 353 in 2012, police had a right to impound vehicles at DUI checkpoints for unlicensed drivers. However, there were many complaints, and opponents argued that police were targeting undocumented immigrants to impound their vehicles. At the time, it was hard for immigrants to obtain vehicle licenses, yet they required vehicles for work.

The opponent also argued that vehicle impoundment violated the Fourth Amendment by subjecting drivers to unreasonable seizures. The critics also argued that the law enforcement officers were motivated by financial incentives to impound vehicles. After the passage of the bill, immediate impoundment of a vehicle at a sobriety checkpoint is illegal if a driver's lack of a driver's license is the only violation.

The actions that the police will take after finding you driving without a driver's license will depend on whether you have a valid driver's license, but you just left it in the house. You are likely to face enhanced penalties if you do not have a valid driver's license at all.

Official Nature of a DUI Checkpoint

For a DUI checkpoint to be legal in California, it has to portray its official nature. Officers should set a checkpoint in such a manner that motorists would be able to tell that they are approaching a checkpoint. This setting will ensure that the checkpoint will not cause fear or panic to the law-abiding citizens. Some of the characteristics of an official checkpoint include marked police vehicles, flashing lights, presence of uniformed officers, and warning signs.

The law also requires police to ensure that there is ample safety at a sobriety checkpoint. For instance, the police should ensure that all roadblocks are visible to all road users. While setting up a sobriety checkpoint, the police should also consider the street layout and the traffic patterns.

The officers have to use good judgment while setting the time and the duration of DUI checkpoints.

Find a DUI Attorney Near Me

It is essential to understand what is expected of you at a DUI checkpoint as well as your rights, which the police should not violate. If you are in Los Angeles, Jonathan Franklin DUI Attorney can help you understand everything about DUI checkpoints. Contact us at 323-464-6700 and speak to an experienced attorney today.

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