How Do DUI Checkpoints Work?

Posted on 12-21-2015 by
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The California Supreme Court has held that DUI checkpoint operations are constitutionally valid if they comply with certain guidelines. As a result, law enforcement agencies in California frequently operate checkpoints on nights and weekends where DUI offenses often occur. When going through a DUI checkpoint, it is important to understand how these checkpoints work and what is expected of a driver.

In most cases, police officers need to have reasonable suspicion that a driver is violating the law before the officer can stop the driver’s vehicle. This means that an officer cannot simply pull over a vehicle unless that officer has observed the driver violate the law or has another legal basis to stop the vehicle. Because DUI checkpoints apply to all drivers on the road, the California Supreme Court has held that checkpoints do not violate a person’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches or seizures. However, these checkpoints must adhere to strict legal guidelines in order to be considered valid.   

The checkpoint must be planned in advance and must be held at a time and location where there has been a high occurrence of DUI offenses. Usually, these checkpoints are held during evenings and on weekends and holidays. Officers are careful in selecting the location of the checkpoint. The checkpoint must be in an area that is visible and clearly marked, however officers are careful not to set up the checkpoint in a manner that would be easily avoided. It is not illegal to avoid a DUI checkpoint. However, law enforcement agencies often set up these operations in a way that any attempt to avoid going through the checkpoint would require a driver to violate the law, such as making an illegal U-turn. There are often officers waiting on the perimeter of the checkpoint who pay extra attention to vehicles that appear to be avoiding the checkpoint and often pull over these vehicles for other traffic violations.

The public must be notified of the DUI checkpoint. This means that there should be signs and flashing lights indicating the presence of a checkpoint. In many cases, there will be uniformed officers on foot and patrol vehicles with flashers to show that the checkpoint is an officially sanctioned police operation. In addition, this also means that the agency conducting the checkpoint must publicize the operation in advance. Law enforcement agencies will put out press notices in advance of a checkpoint or may include information about the checkpoint on their website. The exact location of the checkpoint may not printed, however the agency is required to announce that there will be a checkpoint in the general vicinity.

There also must be a non-biased method for determining which vehicles to stop. Usually, the law enforcement agency operating the checkpoint will select a numerical method for stopping vehicles, such as stopping every other vehicle or every third vehicle. The stop must be brief and the officer will usually ask for license, registration and proof of insurance. If the officer believes during this brief interaction that the driver may be under the influence, the driver will be diverted to a separate area to undergo a more thorough DUI investigation.

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