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Are DUI Checkpoints Actually Legal?

In California, a major law enforcement tactic to address the issue of driving under the influence has become the use of roadside sobriety checkpoints. The question thus constantly arises, "Are these roadside sobriety checkpoints really legal?" The answer lies with an analysis of each and every particular checkpoint.

Ingersol v. Palmer

Under the leading California Supreme Court case of Ingersol v. Palmer, 43 Cal.3d 1321 (1987)., the touchstone for Fourth Amendment analysis is reasonableness – balancing the public interest at stake, and the degree to which that interest is advanced by the checkpoint, verses the severity of interference to constitutionally protected individual liberties.

The court discussed a number of factors to be considered in determining the constitutionality of roadside sobriety checkpoints in California, noting that a neutfal formula should be used when selecting which vehicle to stop in a roadside field sobriety test, rather than relying on the discretion of an officer.

How intrusive was the checkpoint? In Ingersol, the Burlingame, California checkpoint – expected to serve as a model for the State - was preceded by substantial publicity notifying the public of its existence. The location for the checkpoint was selected after consideration of arrest records, accident records, safety factors and street layout.

Warning signs announcing the checkpoint were posted sufficiently in advance of the checkpoint location to allow motorists to turn aside, and under operational guidelines, the officers were directed that no motorist was to be stopped merely for choosing to avoid the checkpoint. Under a predetermined neutral formula, only every fifth car was stopped at the checkpoint. The others were all waived through. And the average detention time for those vehicles that were stopped was only 28 seconds.

The truth of the matter is that as of today, California DUI checkpoints have in many cases become way more intrusive than that in the Ingersol case. To analyze and determine whether a particular California DUI checkpoint passes constitutional requirements, a number of very important factors must be examined. A key factor however concerns the utilization of a predetermined, specified, neutral formula in stopping vehicles. [E.g., every car, every second car if traffic backs up for more than two minutes, etc.] Standardless and unconstrained discretion on the part of police officers is what the courts have struck down in a number of inspection and stop cases.

In today's world, the problem may be that in a given roadside sobriety checkpoint case, there may be little, if any predetermined neutral criteria communicated and/or implemented, for the stopping of vehicles. Moreover, in looking at a number 2012 San Diego Police Department Press Releases, it is appearing that on occasion, there is a huge disparity (in the hundreds of vehicles) between the number of vehicles passing through a given sobriety checkpoint, compared to the and number of motorists actually contacted by officers at the checkpoint.

Thus, the key point is that this critical, "neutral formula" (for the stopping of vehicles) requirement needs to be examined in each and every individual DUI checkpoint case, (and there are a host of other important issues that need to be looked at in each and every case as well).

Arrested at a DUI checkpoint? Contact a San Diego DUI Attorney immediately if you have been arrested for driving under the influence in California and need legal guidance.With more than 30 years of experience, we fight for you.