16 May Are DUI Sobriety Checkpoints Legal in California?
No one likes DUI checkpoints. Not only do they make many of us nervous, even when we haven’t been drinking. There’s just something about getting caught in a checkpoint and seeing a police officer walking towards us that tends to activate a guilt complex, they also drastically extend the length of time it takes you to get from Point A to Point B.
As irritated as you might be that you were caught at a DUI checkpoint, you shouldn’t expect the state to stop using them anytime soon. The purpose of the checkpoints is to reduce the annual number of deaths and injuries that are the direct result of drunk driving incidents. As long as the checkpoints continue to catch drunk drivers, they will remain an issue you’ll have to deal with when driving in California.
Many people have protested that DUI checkpoints are illegal, that they’re a form of entrapment. The issue has even made it all the way to both the California and Federal Supreme Courts, who ruled that the checkpoints were legal. There are some rules that they must follow when the highway patrol sets up a California DUI checkpoint. These rules include:
- Arranging things so only the supervising officers are in charge of operational decisions;
- Establishing a completely neutral criteria for drawing motorists into the checkpoint.
- Making sure the checkpoint is set up in a location where the supervising officers can reasonably expect drunk drivers to pass-through
- The checkpoint is safe and all safety protocol is being followed
- The is sufficient evidence that the checkpoint will catch some drunk drivers
- That the checkpoint is organized in such a way that each person is detained for as short a period of time as possible
- Roadblocks are used to publicly announce the presence of DUI checkpoint
If you’ve never been caught at a California DUI checkpoint, it can be a bit overwhelming. The good news is that the checkpoint should be set up in such a way that it’s easy for you to grasp what you’re supposed to do.
When set up correctly, roadblocks are used so that vehicles slowly merge together before coming to a complete stop. One of the officers will approach your car and request the same material that they ask for during a routine traffic stop: driver’s license, proof of insurance, registration. What is a little different is that the officer will be intent on your behavior and will likely spend a little time chatting with you. They really aren’t interested in what you have to say, but rather how you say it and your overall behavior. They’re using the few moments of conversation to decide if you’ve been drinking.
Indicators the officer uses to decide if they should do a full sobriety test include:
- The smell of alcohol
- Lack of focus
- Slurred speech
- Watery eyes
- Jittery behavior
- Shaking hands
The other thing the officer will do is a quick scan of the interior of your car. They’re looking for things like open containers, drug paraphernalia, and other signs that you were drinking (or consuming drugs) before and/or while you’re driving. The entire experience usually lasts about 30 seconds.
As a rule, the officers usually ignore passengers while they’re questioning the driver. This could change if the passenger acts like they are intoxicated. During a checkpoint, the officers do have the right to question anyone who is in the car, if they feel that the passenger represents a safety hazard to themselves, or the driver, the officer will have to decide how they should proceed. If there’s evidence that the passenger is under the influence of illegal drugs, they may decide to arrest the passenger. If you’re the passenger during a DUI checkpoint, it’s in your best interest to stay quiet.