Yes, if you drive up to a DUI checkpoint, you have to stop the vehicle and comply with law enforcement. This is an exception to the normal rule that officers cannot pull someone over without a reason. DUI checkpoints are not considered a violation of your constitutional rights.
Why Are DUI Checkpoints Legal?
DUI checkpoints are an exception because they do not arbitrarily target individual motorists. They are considered an “administrative inspection,” similar to searching bags for weapons at an airport. The motivation is to preserve public safety and deter drunk driving. They are legal as long as police carefully follow the rules that protect your rights.
These rules were set down by a pivotal ruling by the California Supreme Court, known as Ingersoll v. Palmer. This case laid out eight guidelines for DUI checkpoints:
- There must be supervising officers running the DUI checkpoint to make sure the rules are followed correctly.
- Motorists must be stopped in a neutral, unbiased manner. For example, police can stop every third vehicle.
- The checkpoint must be “reasonably” located. That means it’s placed somewhere with a high rate of DUI violations, with minimal inconvenience.
- There must be safety precautions, such as giving motorists enough time to stop.
- Police should use “good judgment” in scheduling the checkpoint—for example, not holding it during rush hour.
- There must be adequate indication that this is an official checkpoint, such as marked police cars and signage.
- Drivers should be detained a minimal amount of time.
- Preferably, the roadblocks should be advertised in advance (but this is not a strict requirement).
What Happens at a DUI Checkpoint?
As you approach a road block, you should see signage warning you to slow down and prepare to stop. The road may be partially closed, forcing all traffic into one or two lanes. As you approach the roadblock, law enforcement officers may indicate for you to stop the car—or they may not. In some cases, you will be waved right through without stopping.
If you are stopped, you should follow officers’ instructions. They will ask you to roll down your window and show your license and registration. You are legally required to follow these directions. If you do not, officers can and will arrest you for obstruction of justice—and possibly DUI.
During the checkpoint, you can run afoul of several laws:
- If you don’t have a valid driver’s license, or if it was suspended, you will be charged with a crime. However, since 2012, it is illegal to impound your car if driving without a license is your only charge. The valid, registered owner can come get it as long as they arrive before the checkpoint is over.
- After checking your license, officers will ask you several questions. They’re looking for signs that you’re impaired, such as slurred speech, the smell of alcohol, or a glimpse of bottles or drugs in the car. If they have any reason to believe you’re inebriated they may arrest you for DUI.
- You can be issued tickets for other violations, such as a broken headlight. You can also be charged with other crimes if the police see evidence.
If none of these apply, you will be allowed to go. Normally, this only takes a minute or two—often just seconds.
Do You Have to Submit to Alcohol Tests?
Sometimes police will use tests to evaluate whether you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you have not yet been arrested, you do not have to submit to these tests (but refusing may seem suspicious). If you have been arrested for DUI, you are required to submit to the test. Refusing to do so is a crime in its own right.
There are three kinds of tests:
- Field sobriety tests. Police are trained to carry out “field sobriety tests” (FSTs) to evaluate whether you’re sober. These include things like walking a line or reciting the alphabet backwards. This is done before the arrest, and it’s up to you whether you choose to comply. If you refuse, however, you may still be arrested for DUI.
- PAS. A “preliminary alcohol screening” PAS is a small portable breath test, such as the Breathalyzer. Police will ask you to blow into this device before arresting you, and you can refuse if you want. Again, this may not stop them from arresting you, and the prosecution may use your refusal against you.
- Blood/breath test. After you’re arrested for DUI, police will ask you to take either a blood or breath test. This can be done at a hospital or the police station. At this point, you are legally required to comply. If you don’t, you will face additional charges.
Generally it’s best to comply with all tests. The FST’s and PAS are notoriously unreliable and may not carry weight at trial. The final blood or breath test can also be subject to error, and a good DUI lawyer will work to get this evidence thrown out.
Can You Turn Around at a DUI Checkpoint?
It may surprise you to find out that there’s no law against turning around and avoiding a DUI checkpoint. In fact, it’s illegal for police to pull you over simply because you drove away. Be careful, however:
- You must still obey all traffic laws. Make an illegal U-turn and police will have immediate justification to pull you over.
- Drive safely. Swerving or driving aggressively can be seen as evidence of impaired driving, and you’ll be pulled over.
Getting Stopped at a DUI Checkpoint Is Not the End
Just because you were arrested for DUI at a checkpoint does not mean you will be convicted. Checkpoints have to follow an exacting set of rules. A good DUI lawyer will look at all the documentation for the checkpoint and see if any of your rights were violated. If they were, the case can be thrown out.
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