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How a California DUI Checkpoint Could Be Ruled Unlawful

by Theresa Hoffman

While highly controversial, DUI checkpoints are used in a number of states to catch drunk drivers at random. But there are a set of rules that officers must follow in order for the checkpoint to be legal. If you've recently gotten a DUI in California, you may want to know whether you can fight the charges. If any of the following requirements were not met when you were stopped, your attorney can try to prove that the arrest was unlawful, and all charges should be dropped.

Supervisors Must Make the Checkpoint Decisions

Only a supervising officer is given the authority to decide where, when, and how the checkpoint will take place. If it's discovered that a non-supervising deputy made any decisions about the time and location or any other rules of the checkpoint, then the checkpoint was illegal.

Decisions to Stop Motorists Must Be Neutral

When you are deciding who to stop at a DUI checkpoint, the criteria must be determined in a neutral way. In addition, only the supervising officer can make this decision, not field officers. For instance, the supervisor may decide ahead of time that every other car will be detained or that they will stop three cars and then let the next three pass through without detention. Factors like race or age cannot be determinants for who to stop, nor can vehicle type.  

The Checkpoint Should Be in a Reasonable Location

A sobriety checkpoint should not be conducted in an area where drunk drivers are rarely pulled over. The supervising officer should conduct a checkpoint in a location that historically has seen a high incidence of DUIs.

The Checkpoint Should Be Safe and Visible to All

By law, officers at a DUI checkpoint in California should make sure that precautions are taken to ensure the safety of all motorists that come through. This means that a number of factors should be taken into consideration beforehand, like the amount of traffic that's expected to come through as well as the road layout. The checkpoint itself should be clearly visible to approaching drivers, and those drivers must be made aware that they are approaching a DUI checkpoint. This can be done with the use of signs, cones, marked police cars with flashing lights, and uniformed officers.

The Time and Duration of the Checks Should Be Reasonable

Supervising officers should decide what time the checks will be conducted and how long it will last. These decisions are typically based on the likelihood of catching drunk drivers. For instance, a supervisor may decide to hold a checkpoint on a Saturday night between nine and eleven pm. However, the times and duration should not be overly intrusive to the drivers or create a situation in which traffic becomes jammed and accidents are likely.

Drivers Should Not Be Detained an Unreasonable Length of Time

The purpose of a DUI checkpoint is to catch drunk drivers. So obviously, the officer will ask a few questions, probably request a driver's license and registration, and do these things in an attempt to gauge intoxication. If your speech is slurred, your eyes are glassy, or you smell of alcohol, the officer may then ask you to submit to a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer test. You do have the right to refuse a field sobriety test. So if an officer told you it was required, this is not only unlawful but also could be evidence that works in your favor. You are only required to submit to a breathalyzer or other tests after being arrested for DUI. But in general, the police are not allowed to keep you for an unreasonable length of time if they don't have a justifiable reason for doing so.

Officers Must Have Probable Cause to Search Your Car

While they can search your car without a warrant, police are not allowed to do so without having probable cause to believe that you are, in fact, intoxicated. For instance, if you stop at a checkpoint, and the first thing the officer does is ask you to step out of the vehicle so they can search your car, then the search could be ruled unlawful.

Talk to a firm such as Chichester Law Office for more help with your defense.