DUI checkpoints also known as sobriety checkpoints, are legal under both the U.S. and the California constitution. The California Supreme Court maintains that DUI checkpoints are administrative inspects, just like airport screenings. An officer does not require probable cause to stop your vehicle at a DUI checkpoint. The law allows the police to set up roadblocks and detain motorists temporarily as they determine whether the motorists are impaired. If the police arrest you at a DUI checkpoint for impaired driving, we at Bakersfield DUI Attorneys will help you develop a good defense to fight the DUI charges.

What to Expect at a DUI Checkpoint

When law enforcement officers operate a sobriety checkpoint, they occupy a portion of the road. Therefore, vehicles often merge into one or two lanes when approaching the checkpoint. At the checkpoint, the police may ask you to lower your window and present your driver's license. The officer might also engage you in a short conversation while gauging your responses to determine if you are under the influence.

As the officer chats with you, they will be looking for obvious signs of intoxication. Some of the obvious signs of intoxication are:

  • Smell of alcohol
  • Fumbling when reaching out for your driver's license or your registration
  • Stammering or having trouble when answering the officer's questions
  • Having alcohol in your vehicle or drugs and drug paraphernalia
  • Physical signs of intoxication including red or watery eyes, slurred speech, drowsiness, and other signs of physical impairment

If you portray signs of impairment, the law enforcement officer might commence a DUI investigation. If the officer suspects that you have drugs in your system, they may recommend a DUI mouth swab test. The officer may also request you to perform certain DUI field sobriety tests commonly abbreviated as FSTs. The officers may also administer a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test. At times, the police may also ask you to submit to a cheek swab test to check for the presence of marijuana and other drugs. 

If the results of the DUI or the drug tests come out positive, the officer will have probable cause to arrest you for the violation of any of the below laws:

  • California VC 23152(a) – Driving under the influence of alcohol
  • California VC 23152(b) – Driving with a BAC of 0.08% or more
  • California VC 23152(f) – Driving under the influence of drugs
  • Underage DUI
  • Commercial license DUI
  • DUI by a taxi, limo, or a ride-sharing driver

Common FSTs Conducted at DUI Checkpoints

Field sobriety tests refer to a series of mental and physical exercises that the police administer during DUI investigations. The police consider poor performance in the field sobriety tests an indication of impairment with alcohol and drugs. At a DUI checkpoint, the police may rely on your performance in the FSTs to decide whether to arrest you or not. 

The common field sobriety tests that the police conduct at DUI checkpoints are:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus
  • One-leg stand
  • Walk-and-turn

The horizontal gaze nystagmus has an accuracy rate of 88%, while the one-leg stand has an accuracy rate of 83%. The Walk-and-turn test has an accuracy rate of 79%. However, even when the conditions are favorable, some sober drivers end up appearing intoxicated. 

According to California law, the field sobriety tests are optional, and you can decline them without any consequences. A driver can perform poorly in the FSTs for reasons that have nothing to do with intoxication. For instance, if a driver is nervous or ill, they may not perform well in the field sobriety tests. 

Determining the Legality of a DUI Checkpoint

It is worth noting that not all DUI checkpoints are legal in California. When determining whether a DUI checkpoint is legal, courts will consider various factors that DUI checkpoints must comply with. The purpose of a DUI checkpoint is to prevent or deter drunk driving. However, DUI checkpoints should not impose subjective intrusion on motorists to the extent of generating fear. 

When helping you create a defense for checkpoint DUI, an attorney mainly examines the DUI checkpoint to determine if it complied with all the legal requirements. If the checkpoint did not comply with all the laid out requirements, this forms a good basis for dismissing your charges.  DUI checkpoints are constitutional. However, the law enforcement officers' failure to comply with the strict DUI checkpoint requirements may render the checkpoint unconstitutional.

The California Supreme Court set out functional guidelines for determining whether a sobriety checkpoint is constitutional:

  • Only supervising officers should make operational decisions – Only the supervising officers and not the field officers should decide how and where to operate the sobriety checkpoints. This helps to reduce cases of capricious and arbitrary enforcement.
  • The officers must use neutral criteria for stopping vehicles – The supervising officers should determine ahead of time the criteria to use when stopping vehicles. The field officers have no mandate to make decisions on this criterion. In most cases, law enforcement officers use a mathematical selection criterion. For instance, they may decide to stop every third car. It is unconstitutional to stop only a certain vehicle or vehicle model with drivers fitting specific ethnic or age profiles.
  • Reasonable location of sobriety checkpoints – The law requires a reasonable location of the sobriety checkpoints. The officers should set up DUI checkpoints in locations with high incidences of DUI-related accidents and arrests.
  • Taking ample safety precautions – When choosing where to set up a sobriety checkpoint, the supervising officers have to take the necessary safety precautions. For instance, the supervising officers should ensure that the roadblock is visible to oncoming vehicles. Other safety factors to consider are the street layout and traffic patterns.
  • Use of good judgment when determining the checkpoint's time and duration – When setting the time and the duration of a checkpoint, the supervising officers must use good judgment. They have to weigh the effectiveness of the sobriety checkpoint against the intrusiveness of the drivers.
  • The sobriety checkpoint must portray its official nature – When approaching the checkpoint, motorists should tell that they are approaching a checkpoint. This helps to ensure that law-abiding drivers do not experience fear and surprise. Some of the features that will help drivers to identify a checkpoint include marked police vehicles, flashing lights, warning signs, and the presence of uniformed law enforcement officers.
  • The officers should detain drivers for a minimal amount of time – The police should only hold drivers for a period enough to question the driver briefly and look for signs of intoxication. If a driver does not show signs of intoxication, the officer should allow them to drive off. If a driver shows signs of intoxication like slurred speech, bloodshot or glassy eyes, or alcohol on the breath, the police have a right to conduct further investigation. Further investigation at a DUI checkpoint must be based on reasonable suspicion and probable cause.
  • Public advertisement of roadblocks – The law requires a prior advertisement of a DUI checkpoint. However, failure to advertise a checkpoint in advance is not enough to render the checkpoint unconstitutional. Most enforcement agencies publicize DUI checkpoints one week before.

You can find a notice of upcoming checkpoints in:

  • Law enforcement websites
  • Local newspapers
  • Advertising
  • Local news stations

Avoiding a DUI Checkpoint

The law does not prohibit drivers from avoiding a DUI checkpoint. Therefore, you can avoid a DUI checkpoint intentionally. As long as it is safe to do so, you can turn around and use another route to avoid a checkpoint. Law enforcement agencies issue ample warning to drivers regarding the set-up of DUI checkpoints. According to the law, an officer should not stop a motorist solely because they avoided a DUI checkpoint.

However, the police may still pull you over even when trying to avoid a DUI checkpoint. The police will pull you over if you commit a traffic violation or if you display apparent signs of intoxication. The police may also pull you over if you have a defect like a broken tail light.

However, as long as you are at a DUI checkpoint, failing to cooperate with the officer could lead to further charges. The California VC 2814.2(a) requires all drivers to cooperate at a sobriety checkpoint. Therefore, you should obey all the law enforcement officer's instructions. Failing to comply with the officers' instructions is an infraction.

Even if the law requires you to cooperate with the police at a checkpoint, this does not mean that you must submit to the field sobriety tests, PAS test, or the swab test. These tests are not mandatory, and you can refuse to submit to them without attracting further penalties. However, the police may still arrest you for DUI, even if you do not submit to the DUI tests.

However, if the police arrest you for DUI lawfully, you should not refuse to submit to the post-arrest DUI breath or blood test. Refusing to submit to post-arrest DUI testing is a chemical test refusal that could have adverse consequences. The potential consequences of refusing to submit to a DUI test include a suspension of your driver's license for up to one year.

Unlicensed Drivers at a DUI Checkpoint

What happens if the police stop your vehicle at a DUI checkpoint and do not have a driver's license? The action the police will take will vary depending on whether you have a valid driver's license, but you did not carry or whether you have no valid license at all.

If you do not have your driver's license on your person or in the vehicle, the police may charge you under VC 12951 for failing to display your driver's license.  The violation of VC 12951 is an infraction offense whose potential consequence is the payment of a fine. If you later prove that you have a valid license and only failed to carry it, the court may dismiss your charges.

It is a more serious offense if you do not have a valid license. For instance, the police may establish that you were driving on a revoked or a suspended license. In this case, the police may charge you with driving without a valid license under PC 12500. The police may also charge you with driving on a suspended license under VC 14601.  However, the police will not impound your vehicle at a DUI checkpoint if this is the only offense you have committed. The vehicle is not impounded if the driver or the vehicle's registered owner authorizes the car's release to a licensed driver at the end of the checkpoint.

Finding Out About a DUI Checkpoint in Advance

How can you be able to find out about a DUI checkpoint in advance? The best way to find out about upcoming checkpoints is through law enforcement official releases. Other reliable sources of information regarding DUI checkpoints are:

  • Local TV news
  • News websites and local newspapers
  • Police department websites

However, issuance of advance public notice regarding upcoming DUI checkpoints is not mandatory. Therefore, not all DUI checkpoints have to be publicized through the outlined channels. Some drivers rely on numerous apps in the market to find out about the upcoming DUI checkpoints. However, most of the data from these apps may not be accurate or comprehensive.  The relevance of an app will vary depending on the current state of the law. In some instances, you may not find out about a DUI checkpoint until you come upon it.

Understanding Your Rights at a DUI Checkpoint

If you are driving and realize that you are heading to a DUI checkpoint, it is normal to feel nervous and confused. DUI checkpoints can be stressful even for sober drivers. The situation becomes worse if you have consumed alcohol. You may only have had a few drinks, and you have no signs of impairment. However, the fact that you only had a few drinks does not protect you from a DUI arrest. It is important to understand your legal rights at a DUI checkpoint to ensure that law enforcement officers do not take advantage of you. 

After stopping your vehicle at a checkpoint, the police might ask you about where you are going and whether you have had a drink. The police may also request your license and vehicle registration details. You should comply with the police and answer their questions without contradicting yourself. However, you should always remember that you have a right to remain silent. Therefore, if you feel like the police are trying to lead you on, request to talk to an attorney.

The police may subject you to field sobriety tests. Usually, the police will not inform you that you have a right to decline the field sobriety tests. Completing the field sobriety tests can be challenging, especially if you complete the tests at night with distractions.  You may not be able to complete the tests flawlessly. Sometimes, fear and confusion may make you perform poorly in the FSTs only for the law enforcement officer to conclude that you are intoxicated.  Therefore, you should remember that you have a right to say no to the field sobriety tests.

You also have a right to refuse to submit to the pre-arrest PAS test or mouth swab test. Most people do not understand California implied consent laws properly. They assume that they have to submit to a DUI breath test at a checkpoint. According to the implied consent law, it is only mandatory to submit to a DUI test after DUI arrest. Therefore, as long as you are not under arrest on DUI suspicion, you can decline the DUI test politely.  However, it is worth noting that the police might still arrest you even if you do not submit to a DUI test.

What should you do when the police stop you at a DUI checkpoint?

  • Remain calm and collected
  • Do not self-incriminate and avoid offering more information than the police request
  • Say no to a car search
  • You have a right to decline the pre-arrest DUI tests and the field sobriety tests

Common Defenses After an Arrest at a DUI Checkpoint

After an arrest for DUI at a sobriety checkpoint, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were under the influence. With the help of a competent attorney, you can challenge the prosecutor's evidence. Some of the defenses that your attorney could use to fight the prosecutor's allegations are:

Field Officers Did not Follow Neutral or Impartial Criteria for Stopping Vehicles

According to the law, the supervising officers should establish neutral criteria before setting up the DUI checkpoint. The field officers must follow the criteria established by the supervising officers. Your attorney can point out that the field officers did not comply with the set criteria for stopping vehicles. This way, you and your attorney can prove that the DUI checkpoint did not meet the necessary constitutional requirements.

Witness Statements

Your attorney may use witness statements to contract the arresting officer's testimony regarding the checkpoint DUI. The prosecutor will call their witness, the law enforcement officer, to explain what they saw at the accident scene. Your attorney could also call the witnesses present at the DUI checkpoint to challenge the arresting officer's statement.

Lack of Capricious Enforcement

California law requires constitutional profiling of all the DUI checkpoints. Therefore, you can fight checkpoint DUI charges if you prove a lack of arbitrary enforcement while stopping vehicles at a DUI checkpoint. For instance, if it is evident that the field officers were stopping drivers of a certain age or race, the court may render the DUI checkpoint arrest unconstitutional, and this could lead to the dismissal of your charges.

Lack of Probable Cause to Arrest You

After stopping your vehicle at a DUI checkpoint, the law enforcement officers must have probable cause for arresting you.  The officer may arrest you when the results of FSTs or the DUI tests indicate that you are intoxicated. Your attorney can challenge the arresting officer's observations to prove that there was no probable cause for your arrest.

Failure to Issue a Public Notice Regarding the DUI Checkpoint

The law requires law enforcement officers to issue a notice in advance regarding the DUI checkpoints. You and your attorney may point out that the law enforcement officer did not warn the public regarding the DUI checkpoint. The law requires the officers to give at least a one-week notice regarding a DUI checkpoint.

The Driver Was Avoiding a DUI Checkpoint Legally

You can point out that the law enforcement officers arrested you while avoiding a DUI checkpoint legally or safely. It is legal to avoid a DUI checkpoint as long as it is safe to do so. However, if you make an illegal U-turn, the police can arrest you for violating the traffic laws. Therefore, you should not violate any traffic law when trying to avoid a DUI checkpoint. If you were avoiding a checkpoint safely, but the police still went ahead and arrested you, you can challenge the arrest with the help of your attorney, 

Given that DUI checkpoints are legal and constitutional, it is not easy to challenge a DUI checkpoint. You should seek the assistance of an experienced attorney who will create a vigorous defense. An attorney will examine all the aspects of a DUI checkpoint to determine whether the officers adhered to all the necessary legal procedures when setting up the checkpoint.  If your attorney proves that the DUI checkpoint did not meet the constitutional requirements, the court may dismiss the evidence collected at the checkpoint. The dismissal of this information could lead to the dismissal of your charges. 

Find a Bakersfield DUI Attorneys Near Me

If you or a loved one faces a DUI arrest at a sobriety checkpoint in Bakersfield, you should not wait in despair. At Bakersfield DUI Attorneys, we will examine your case and identify potential lapses in the prosecutor's evidence. We will consider whether the DUI checkpoint complied with all the constitutional requirements. Our attorneys will consider the criteria used by the officers while stopping vehicles at the checkpoint. We will help you create a convincing defense to fight the DUI charges. Contact us at 661-215-5660 and speak to one of our attorneys.