Holiday DUI Checkpoints: Know Your Rights

In a previous blog, we discussed how law enforcement throughout Ventura County and Southern California commonly increase their focus on holiday DUIs as a means to combat historically high rates of alcohol-related accidents during holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years – as well as the days and weeks surrounding them. As mentioned, law enforcement use a number of tactics during periods of increased enforcement to stop, investigate, and arrest motorists suspected of DUI. Chief among them are DUI checkpoints.

DUI checkpoints are used year-round by police in Southern California, but they become more frequent during holidays and periods of increased DUI enforcement. That’s because DUI checkpoints, also called sobriety checkpoints, are an effective tool for protecting public safety and arresting motorists who are impaired, driving without a valid license, or committing other crimes.

Although there has been ample debate over the legality of DUI checkpoints and privacy issues, they remain legal in the state of California. As such, it is important to understand how they work and what your rights are whenever you approach a checkpoint and stop to speak with law enforcement. Here are a few important things to know:

  • DUI checkpoints are designed to protect public safety – Despite many arguments from privacy advocates, California has maintained the legality of DUI checkpoints. According to a landmark California Supreme Court case, DUI checkpoints are not unconstitutional because they are classified as administrative inspections, similar to the inspections you must submit to at airports.
  • Probable cause – For most investigatory stops, law enforcement officers must have probable cause or reasonable suspicion in order to stop a motorist, search a suspect, or obtain evidence that can be used against them. Per the California Supreme Court ruling, however, probable cause is not needed in DUI checkpoints, which means they are an exception to the Fourth Amendment rule requiring officers to have probable cause to initiate an investigation.
  • Rules and Procedures – Although the requirement for probable cause and reasonable suspicion is waived at DUI checkpoints, law enforcement officers must still abide by certain rules and procedures. For example, the public must be notified of checkpoints in advance and be reasonably located. Additionally, officers may only stop motorists using neutral selection criteria and detain them for a limited amount of time. Any further investigation must be based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion, which can be gained through conversations with motorists and visible signs of impairment, including slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or the smell of alcohol, among other possible signs.
  • You should not refuse a DUI inspection – While you have a right to avoid DUI checkpoints, if you can do so without committing a traffic infraction or displaying signs of intoxication, California law generally requires all motorists to stop and submit to sobriety checkpoints. As such, you should be courteous to law enforcement and provide any information they request, even if it is a simple and brief discussion. Refusing to comply with an officer’s instructions could result in an infraction, and refusing any tests when an officer has probable cause to suspect you of DUI could result in an automatic license suspension and additional penalties if you are arrested.

DUI checkpoints are important to public safety during the holidays, but they do not give police free reign to infringe upon your rights. If you or someone you love have been arrested for DUI at a sobriety checkpoint anywhere in Los Angeles, Ventura County, or the surrounding areas of Southern California, you have the right to challenge the government’s case against you with the help of an attorney. At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, our criminal defense lawyers are prepared to help you do just that. Contact us for a free consultation.