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DUI Checkpoints in San Diego

Typically, an arresting officer in California must have probable cause that a driver is under the influence in order to make a DUI traffic stop. Often this means that they observe a traffic violation, perceive a safety concern (e.g. no headlights or brake lights that are not operating properly), or notice an unusual pattern of driving (e.g. swerving, or failure to stay in a single lane). Each of these observations would indicate that the driver could be operating the vehicle while intoxicated, or under the influence of drugs.

California law gives law enforcement the power to set up DUI checkpoints to conduct traffic stops without the need for probable cause. These systematic checkpoints are designed to identify and discourage driving under the influence. There are strict requirements that govern these checkpoints, however, to ensure that they are legal under the California Constitution as well as the United States Constitution. The checkpoints must adhere to the following guidelines:

  • The supervising officers must make all operational decisions to ensure consistency in the implementation of the law.
  • The process of stopping cars must be done in a neutral, predetermined way to avoid any bias. For example, law enforcement officers may choose to stop every third or fifth car.
  • The checkpoint must be located in a reasonable location, such as a location with a high number of DUI accidents or arrests.
  • Adequate safety precautions must be established at all times, including setting up the checkpoint to ensure safe traffic flow and making sure the road block is clearly visible to all approaching drivers.
  • Reasonable judgment must be used when determining the start time and duration of the DUI checkpoint.
  • The checkpoint must display adequate signage as to the nature of the stop. Approaching motorists must be able to clearly see that they are approaching a DUI checkpoint and will need to stop. Indications of the stop may include flashing lights, warning signs, a clearly marked patrol car, and/or visible law enforcement officers in uniform.
  • Motorists should be stopped for a minimal amount of time. The officer should stop the vehicle long enough to briefly question the driver and look for signs that the driver may be impaired. Signs of impairment include the odor of alcohol, blood-shot or watery eyes, and slurred or abnormal speech. A driver not displaying these characteristics should be permitted to continue in a timely manner. Further investigation is required only if the officer feels there is probable cause to do so.
  • Roadblocks must be advertised publicly and in advance. Typically, a DUI checkpoint will be posted publicly one week before it is to begin. These notices can be found in local newspapers, news stations, advertisements, and law enforcement websites.

Can I purposely avoid a DUI checkpoint?

Currently, there is no law indicating that a driver may not intentionally avoid a DUI checkpoint as long as it is safe and legal to do so. Generally, law enforcement provides drivers sufficient warning of an upcoming DUI checkpoint, which allows them to avoid the checkpoint safely. Most police departments do not permit an officer to pull over a vehicle solely for intentionally avoiding a DUI checkpoint. An officer may only pull over a vehicle if the driver commits a traffic violation, if the vehicle is unsafe, or if the driver is displaying characteristics suggesting that he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

If you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint and you do not have your California Driver's License with you, the officer can also charge you with a failure to display your driver's license (VD 12951). You could get this charge dismissed if you and your attorney can prove that you had a valid license at the time of the stop at the checkpoint. If your license has been revoked, suspended or you do not have a license, you will be charged with driving without a valid license (VC 12500) or driving on a suspended license (VC 14601). If you are only charged with the above mentioned and you are the registered owner of the vehicle, your vehicle should not be impounded.

On the other hand, if during any of the questioning about your license or registration you smell of alcohol, fumble while retrieving documentation for the officer, slur your speech, or have other signs of impairment, the officer can begin to investigate you for drunk driving as well.  

California DUI checkpoint controversy

Checkpoints such as these have raised a great deal of criticism, which as lead to recent changes in the law regarding DUI checkpoints and the impounding of a suspected person’s vehicle.

Before 2012, officers were permitted to impound the vehicle of drivers without a license at a DUI checkpoint. Opponents argued that such actions

a) unfairly targeted undocumented immigrants who needed a car for work,

b) violated the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects against unlawful search and seizure, and c) were financially incentivized.

This opposition led the California legislation to establish Assembly Bill 353 (CVC Section 2814.2), which states that a vehicle may not be impounded at a designated DUI checkpoint if the only violation is driving without a license.

A ban on DUI checkpoint location apps for smart phones also went into effect in 2011. The US Senate decided that use of these location apps enabled and encouraged drunk driving. The developers of these apps argued that the apps were actually meant to remind drivers of the dangers or drinking and driving and to raise awareness. The app developers also argued that the apps were created to encourage and educate people to be responsible behind the wheel. This is still an ongoing disagreement and many app providers do no comply with the Supreme Courts ruling. 

How San Diego DUI Attorney can help

An arrest at a DUI checkpoint requires the assistance of an attorney skilled at navigating the intricacies of this type of situation. Our DUI law team has been handling these cases in San Diego and Orange County for almost three decades and has the expertise to get you the best results. These cases can often be very different than other DUI cases, but require the same professionalism and perseverance. 

Contact our office today at 619-535-7150 for a FREE DUI consultation.

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