The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits law enforcement officers from conducting unlawful stops, searches, and seizures. Generally a law enforcement officer is required to have some valid reason or probable cause prior to stopping a driver. Reasons for a valid stop include speeding, distracted driving, failure to stop at a stop sign, or other violations of the California Vehicle Code. However, both the United States Supreme Court and California Supreme Court have upheld the legality of brief detentions of drivers at checkpoints, absent probable cause, to determine if the driver is driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. The utilization of DUI or sobriety checkpoints has proliferated in the past decade because of the large quantities of state grant money flowing into cities from DUI fines and penalty assessments from the court.
Although the usage of these kinds of law enforcement tools is generally regarded as helping to reduce DUI drivers, checkpoints are actually less effective than other law enforcement tools. Research has found that having officers on patrol focus on specific signs of drunk driving is actually more effective than checkpoints. Furthermore, although DUI checkpoints are well-established, their administration is not always legal. In the seminal case, Ingersoll vs. Palmer, the United States Supreme Court handed down guidance which must be complied with in any particular law enforcement checkpoint. Among the factors are:
- The degree of discernment given to the individual officer in the field
- The certain area chosen for the roadblock
- The time and extent of the roadblock
- The criteria set by superior officers
- Whether advance notice was given to the basic public
- Whether advance notice was given to approaching motorists
- Adherence to acknowledged security conditions
- The length of time each motorist is stopped and detained
Therefore, although the courts have established DUI checkpoints as being completely legal, they must be operated according to clearly established reasonable and neutral guidelines. If these guidelines are not adhered to, any evidence gathered during the stop may be suppressed and be inadmissible in court. Whenever challenging a DUI checkpoint, each of these factors may be considered by the criminal court magistrate hearing the motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the checkpoint. These motions are generally titled 1538.5 motions to suppress evidence, and are extremely useful tools in challenging the validity of an initial stop or detention, including DUI checkpoints. In fact, if the DUI checkpoint violates these guidelines, all of the evidence in a DUI arrest may be completely suppressed, causing the prosecutor to have to dismiss the case.
In California, generally, the California Highway Patrol and/or local law enforcement are responsible for establishing and operating DUI checkpoints. In San Diego County, the authorities use sobriety stops quite regularly. It is not uncommon on any given weekend to see authorities setting up a "drunk driver" checkpoint in San Diego. As an experienced San Diego DUI attorney who has defended hundreds of DUI cases, Parwana Anwar can help evaluate whether your rights have been violated.