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A recent news story that has gained a lot of national publicity involves a 19-year-old who decided to set up his own DUI checkpoint despite the fact that he was not a police officer and he was under the influence of alcohol himself. The man parked his vehicle across a road and set up flares at 4:00 A.M. on a Saturday morning. Drivers passing through the checkpoint were stopped by the man and asked to provide their driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. Eventually, real police approached the man at the checkpoint and he was arrested. He is currently facing charges of DUI, impersonating a police officer and unlawful restraint.
This news story highlights a critical concern that courts and civil liberty advocates have raised as DUI checkpoint operations have been embraced by an increasing number of law enforcement agencies; namely safety to the public at large. While not all states allow DUI checkpoints, California has authorized the use of these operations as long as they follow the very strict guidelines dictated by the California Supreme Court in the Ingersoll v. Palmer decision.
One of the key concerns that the California Supreme Court expressed about DUI checkpoints relates to safety of the general public. A checkpoint functions by allowing officers to stop and briefly detain all drivers passing through the specified location. The law typically requires that officers have an articulable and reasonable suspicion before stopping a vehicle and questioning the driver. However, the California Supreme Court reasoned that because checkpoint operations broadly apply to general public, they do not violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. These checkpoints are considered to be an administrative enforcement effort similar to screenings conducted at airports that all passengers are subject to.
One of the concerns about checkpoints is that they could endanger the public. Anytime a road is closed and drivers are diverted for a DUI examination, there are obvious public safety concerns. If the checkpoint is not properly marked or adequately lit, the sudden lane closures could result in increased traffic collisions and could create a road hazard. As a result, all DUI checkpoints are required to be well marked. Typically, a checkpoint will feature flashing lights, lit signs posted well in advance of the operation, numerous officers on scene and patrol vehicles with their light bars activated.
Courts are also concerned with the official intrusion into the lives of those passing through the checkpoint and have required that the checkpoint be as minimally invasive as possible. Typically, the officer will ask to see the driver’s license and registration and will look for any clear indications of intoxication. If the officer has reason to suspect the driver is under the influence, he or she will be directed to a different area to undergo a complete DUI investigation.
While cases like the one in the news story are incredibly rare, anyone passing through a checkpoint should be suspicious if there are not numerous officers in uniform and if there is a lack of patrol vehicles, lit signs or other similar items usually seen at a DUI checkpoint.