A few months ago, the above DUI checkpoint video went viral. In the video, a young man at a Fourth of July DUI checkpoint asserted his rights instead of allowing the officer to abridge his rights as a citizen. While videos like these may make standing up for your rights look easy, there are many aspects of the law one must take into consideration before attempting to become a local hero at a sobriety checkpoint. Sobriety checkpoints are legal so long as they are carried out in compliance with the requirements laid out in Ingersoll v. Palmer, a landmark California Supreme Court Case.
Sobriety checkpoints, also referred to as DUI checkpoints, are very common in the state of California. Usually set up as a way to keep drunk drivers off the road on holiday weekends and other instances when drinking and driving may be common, a roadblock stop is a quick and easy way for police officers to check tags and licenses, while simultaneously looking for signs of intoxication.
Traditionally, police in the state of California must have probable cause in order to stop and question a motorist. This means a traffic violation must have been observed, there must be a defect in the car that effects safety, or a driving pattern indicative of intoxication must be observed by the officer. Unfortunately, DUI checkpoints are an exception to the rule. Courts have continuously upheld the rights of law enforcement to conduct systematic traffic stops to identify and deter drunk driving. According to the courts, they are completely legal and do not infringe upon one’s constitutional rights.
Though roadblocks are technically constitutional, it’s important to remember that your constitutional rights still apply in roadblock situations. Although the police are allowed to stop you briefly, they may not search your car unless they have probable cause that you’re under the influence or you verbally agree to a search. You are not required to answer their questions or admit to breaking the law.
Under your 5th Amendment rights, you don’t have to answer any questions you don’t feel comfortable answering. If the police officer asks you to submit to a breathalyzer test, you have every right to refuse it. Although it’s completely legal to refuse a breathalyzer, the police may still arrest you if they feel they have “probable cause.” Additionally, refusing the breathalyzer test may cause the police to ask you to exit the vehicle and perform field sobriety tests. Though these can also be legally refused, you may still be arrested due to probable cause.
Avoiding a Checkpoint is Legal
If you choose to avoid the checkpoint altogether, there is no law that says you may not intentionally avoid a DUI checkpoint – as long as it is safe to do so. Typically, law enforcement agencies give drivers sufficient warning to allow them to avoid the checkpoint if they so wish. Departmental rules usually prohibit officers from stopping motorists solely because they intentionally avoided the checkpoint. If you decide to intentionally avoid a checkpoint, be sure to remember normal traffic rules still apply. You may still get pulled over if you commit a traffic violation, have a defect on your vehicle, or display signs of intoxication.
If you do choose to assert your rights at a sobriety checkpoint, be sure to do so in a respectful manner. You may simply state, “I refuse to talk to you until I consult with attorney” or “If I am not under arrest, I want to leave. If I am free to leave, please tell me immediately.” If a motorist does not choose to comply and there is no evidence a crime has been committed, the officer must allow the driver to proceed.