The other day an individual challenged his DUI in court without the representation of an attorney. In open court, in front of the other defendants and attorneys, he started to yell at the presiding judge. “They violated my constitutional rights!” The judge was annoyed but let the man finish. “A DUI checkpoint is unconstitutional! There was no probable cause to stop me!” After he was done, the judge responded: “This is an arraignment. All you need to do is enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty.”
Besides the procedural mistake (one does not argue the merits of a case at an arraignment), the pro per defendant was wrong on the law. DUI checkpoints are not unconstitutional. To the contrary, both the United States and California Constitutions’ allow DUI checkpoints.
The rationale behind “mobile” or “roadblock” DUI checkpoints lies in public safety. Due to the state’s strong interest in preventing injury from DUI accidents, minor inconveniences are allowed. This does not mean that law enforcement can use checkpoints as an excuse to perform general or broad investigations. Police officers must follow strict guidelines when conducting a DUI checkpoint.
California has enacted legislation with respect to checkpoints. California Vehicle Code section 2814.2, subsection (a) states: “[a] driver of a motor vehicle shall stop and submit to a sobriety checkpoint inspection conducted by a law enforcement agency when signs and displays are posted requiring that stop.”
Nevertheless, a California Supreme Court case in 1987 (Ingersoll v. Palmer), enumerated the guidelines that must be followed by officers executing a DUI checkpoint. They are as follows:
a) Supervising officers must make all operational decisions;
b) Criteria for stops must be neutral;
c) Checkpoint must be reasonably located;
d) Adequate safety measures must be taken;
e) Good judgment must be used when determining the checkpoint’s time and duration;
f) There must be sufficient notice to drivers that the checkpoint is for official purposes;
g) Drivers must only be stopped for a minimal amount of time; and
h) Checkpoints should be publicly advertised in advance of execution.
If these guidelines are not followed, it is possible that a DUI charge, arising from a checkpoint, could be challenged. There are never guarantees, however.
A checkpoint also does not mean officers’ can perform an extensive investigation without probable cause. A brief stop can lead to an investigation when there is evidence, sufficient probable cause, of intoxication –for example, when a person has alcohol on his breath, blurred eyes, or slurred speech.
In summary, on holiday weekends, like Labor Day Weekend, make sure that you avoid situations where you will have to drink and drive. Use a designated driver or taxi service if you drink. It is not only against the law, it is extremely dangerous. With that, have a good weekend!