Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in California?

  • Post last modified:November 25, 2023

What Are DUI Checkpoints?

DUI checkpoints are roadblocks that allow law enforcement officers to visually inspect drivers— and, to some degree, the inside of their vehicles—to make a determination about the potential for DUI. Typically, drivers must stop at the checkpoint, roll down their windows, and speak with officers. Officers who believe that a driver may be impaired might require further action, such as a field sobriety test.

If you find yourself in a DUI checkpoint after enjoying a few drinks with friends or over dinner, you could end up facing DUI charges depending on your blood alcohol content and other factors.

Are Sobriety Checkpoints Allowed in California?

Some out-of-state defendants might be surprised by DUI checkpoints in California. Sobriety checkpoints are actually prohibited in some states, as lawmakers have made cases that they don’t align with constitutional freedoms or otherwise are not a good use of public funds and resources. However, DUI checkpoints are legal in California as long as they meet the following standards:

  • Officers don’t have to stop all motorists that go through the checkpoint, but they must use neutral criteria for selecting motorists to be stopped. They are not allowed to profile motorists or cars, for example, but they might decide to stop every third car.
  • Checkpoint locations must be reasonable in nature with regard to safety and the practical nature of traffic. For example, that might eliminate a checkpoint on a busy highway during rush hour. Officers must also follow adequate safety measures, including providing direction for traffic flow or lighting, if necessary.
  • The checkpoint must be clearly indicated. Officers can’t attempt to hide the fact that it is a DUI checkpoint by limiting any official-looking police presence or making the checkpoint look like something else. Roadblock notices or signs must also be posted in advance to allow for safe traffic flow.
  • Good judgment must be followed in deciding how long the checkpoint should last and when it should start.
  • Officers must work to create efficient processes so they are detaining motorists for minimal periods of time.
  • All operational decisions related to the checkpoint must be made by supervising officers.

Disadvantages of DUI Checkpoints

Sobriety checkpoints have sparked a number of debates over the years. Detractors believe checkpoints violate constitutional rights and create instances of illegal searches. They also state that they are ineffective and a potential waste of police resources and time.

For motorists who might be caught up in a DUI checkpoint, there is also the chance that it can lead to a mistaken arrest for DUI. If you are charged with a DUI after going through a checkpoint, working with an experienced DUI criminal attorney can help you understand what defense options you have.

What to Expect at a DUI Checkpoint Stop

Typically, when law enforcement sets up a DUI checkpoint, they create new traffic patterns. For example, they may use cones and other tools to section off parts of the road and direct traffic into a single line (or more than one line, depending on the size of the checkpoint and where it is).

Traffic will come to a stop as motorists wait in these lines, though they often move fast—especially if officers are not stopping every car in the line. Depending on the location of the checkpoint, officers may create slower-than-normal traffic patterns and pull randomly selected motorists over to the actual checkpoint.

When it is your turn if you are stopped at a checkpoint, you pull up carefully to an officer and roll down your window. The officer typically asks to see your license and registration and engages in a short discussion. During this time, the officer is looking for signs that might indicate a probable cause to believe you are driving under the influence of alcohol. That can include unusual trouble getting your license or registration out, slurred speech, the scene of alcohol on your person or in your car, the presence of opened alcohol containers, or trouble answering seemingly simple questions.

If the officer doesn’t notice any potential signs of a DUI, they will likely return your license and registration, wish you well, and pass you through and on your way. If they do see any signs of a potential DUI, they may ask you to pull over and step out of the vehicle. You may be asked to perform a field sobriety test or submit to a preliminary alcohol screening, or PAS, breath test.

Can You Avoid a DUI Checkpoint?

As long as you can turn around or safely leave the road before the checkpoint in a legal manner, there is nothing to prohibit you from purposefully avoiding a DUI checkpoint. Police will not stop a vehicle that is making legal and safe maneuvers to avoid a checkpoint without other factors being present.

However, if you violate traffic laws, put someone in danger, are driving a vehicle with a defect such as a broken taillight, or drive in a manner that causes officers to believe you are intoxicated, they can and may pull you over after you try to avoid a checkpoint.

Reach Out for Help if You’re Arrested at a DUI Checkpoint

DUI charges are serious and can have long-term impacts on your life. If you have been charged with a DUI after going through a checkpoint—or at any other time—get experienced legal help from a criminal defense team. Reach out to the Law Offices of Jerry Nicholson to schedule a consultation and find out how we can work to help with your defense. Call us at 562-205-8499.