California wants to keep its drivers and pedestrians safe from impaired drivers. To promote this agenda, California law enforcement uses DUI checkpoints to stop and assess drivers and remove those who are drunk or high from the roads.
Sometimes, even drivers who are not impaired do not want to stop and a checkpoint or comply with an officer’s instructions. While drivers may not have to submit to certain aspects of checkpoint procedures if they have not been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), refusing to stop at the checkpoint can have legal consequences.
The Purpose of DUI Checkpoints
DUI checkpoints, also called sobriety checkpoints, are traffic stops that allow law enforcement officers to identify and arrest intoxicated drivers. The stops are intended to take impaired drivers off the roads to keep drivers and pedestrians safe.
They are also used as a deterrent. If a person fears being “caught” when driving drunk or high, they may avoid getting behind the wheel.
Are California DUI Checkpoints Legal?
DUI checkpoints are legal under California state law and the United States Constitution. California’s Supreme Court recognizes DUI checkpoints as “administrative inspections” comparable to airport security screenings. That said, the checkpoints have to meet specific standards. If they do not, drivers who are stopped and arrested at the checkpoint may have grounds to challenge that arrest.
Law enforcement must act according to the following rules when implementing DUI checkpoints:
- Supervising officers make all operational decisions and oversee all checkpoints
- Officers must use a neutral standard for stopping motorists. For example, stops cannot be based on race, gender, or car model. Instead, a neutral system, such as stopping every third or fourth car, must be followed
- The checkpoint location must be reasonable. It has to be in an area known for drunk driving accidents or arrests
- Safety precautions, such as flashing lights, warning signs, and law enforcement officers must be visible to drivers well before the checkpoint. Additionally, the changed road layout or traffic pattern must be clearly marked
- The time of the checkpoint implementation and its duration must reflect “good judgment” by the supervising officer. Checkpoints should be as least intrusive to drivers as possible
- Motorists should not be stopped for more time than is needed to for law enforcement to ask questions and check for signs of impairment
- The roadblocks must be advertised to the public through local news outlets and the police department website prior to its implementation
You Can Turn Around to Avoid a DUI Checkpoint
Drivers who want to avoid a DUI checkpoint can turn their car around and avoid the roadblock as long the maneuver is safe and does not put others on the road in danger. Since law enforcement usually provides ample warning of the checkpoint, drivers should have the opportunity to avoid it safely.
Officers may not stop a motorist simply because the motorist chose to avoid the checkpoint. However, officers can stop the driver for other reasons. For example, if the driver commits a traffic violation while turning around, or has a vehicle defect such as a broken taillight, or demonstrates behaviors consistent with intoxication, they can be pulled over.
Can Drivers Refuse a DUI Checkpoint in California?
All drivers must stop and submit to checkpoints according to California Vehicle Code 2814.2(a).
At the checkpoint, an officer will ask the driver to roll down the car window and ask to see their license and registration. Then, the officer will attempt to engage the driver in conversation as a way of assessing potential impairment. Drivers who do not stop and comply with an officer’s instructions can be charged with obstruction of justice or DUI if they show signs of impairment.
If drivers do not show signs of impairment, they must be permitted to move along without additional delay. Officers can only ask drivers to pull over for further evaluation if there is probable cause or reasonable suspicion of impairment.
Can Drivers Refuse DUI Tests at a Checkpoint?
If an officer suspects impairment and asks the driver to exit the vehicle, drivers can decline to take field sobriety or pre-arrest breath or cheek swab tests. Such tests are optional and can be refused without penalty. This refusal, however, does not mean the driver cannot still be arrested for DUI based on other DUI indicators.
These other indicators may include:
- Smelling of alcohol or marijuana
- Slurring words
- Demonstrating delayed or clumsy movements
- Having trouble answering basic questions
- Struggling to locate license and registration
- Having alcohol or drugs in plain sight in the vehicle
Keep in mind, though, that drivers who refuse post-arrest DUI blood or breath tests do face penalties, including a one-year driver’s license suspension.
At checkpoints, drivers can also choose not to allow officers to search their vehicles. While they must answer questions regarding their identification, drivers do not have to answer questions that may lead to self-incrimination. For example, if the officer asks if the driver has been drinking, the driver can choose not to answer.
Why Drivers Refuse a Checkpoint Stop
It is important to emphasize that drivers can turn around and avoid checkpoints if doing so is safe, but once at a checkpoint, they cannot refuse to provide their license and registration, answer the officer’s questions, or pull over if instructed.
Some drivers may want to refuse the checkpoint because they are actually intoxicated. Others may have different reasons, such as not having their license with them or not having a valid license at all.
Even in these situations, drivers must stop at the checkpoint. While they may face penalties, according to California Vehicle Code 2814.2., they do not have to fear having their vehicles impounded immediately if their only unlawful behavior is driving without a valid license.
Facing Charges for a DUI Checkpoint Arrest? We Are Here to Help
If you were arrested at a DUI checkpoint and are facing charges, reach out to a Los Angeles DUI Attorney right away. Your attorney will investigate the situation to determine whether officers acted within California law and upheld your rights. Whatever your specific situation, you can count on a Los Angeles DUI Attorney to give you the knowledgeable, experienced, and attentive legal representation you need to secure the best outcome possible.