Police departments from time to time can set up DUI checkpoints where they stop and detain motorists shortly to establish if they are driving under the influence. For this kind of check, police officers are not required to have probable cause to stop a motorist as expected in the regular DUI arrests. However, many guidelines exist that regulate how the checks are carried out and arrests made. If you are arrested for drunk driving at a DUI checkpoint, and you believe regulations were violated, you can successfully challenge the detention with the help of a DUI lawyer. If you have been charged in Santa Ana, Darwish Law can help with your defense if you are arrested at a DUI checkpoint.
An Overview on DUI Checkpoints
Police departments must stick to the guidelines stipulated before setting up a DUI checkpoint. Similarly, at the checkpoint, they must follow specific regulations to avoid defendants from challenging the arrest. Some of the rules they must adhere to are:
- The process of selecting vehicles to stop must be neutrally predetermined
- The public must be notified in advance of the checkpoint
- The checkpoint must be put in such a way that it is easily identified
- The shortest amount of time must be taken for each detention
Before setting up a DUI checkpoint, the police must follow specific regulations failure to which the legality of the inspection may be challenged. These regulations are:
1. The Supervising Officer must make all the Constitutional Decisions
Prior to establishing a checkpoint, an administrative police officer must make decisions on how the inspection will be conducted. This officer should not be a field officer or one that will be at the scene. The rules above are important because it prevents profiling of particular individuals based on race, origin, or other traits. Some of the decisions the supervising officer must make include:
- The date to establish the checkpoint
- The suitable location for the checkpoint
- The method or procedure of selecting vehicles to be detained briefly
2. Neutrality and Impartiality must be Practiced when Stopping Motorists
Before establishing a checkpoint, the supervising officer must decide which vehicles will be stopped. The decision to stop vehicles is never left to the field officer. For instance, the supervising officer may instruct the field officers to stop five vehicles consecutively, and then let three proceed. The field officers must stick to the pattern. The guidelines should never appear like it is targeting particular people or vehicles. For instance, field officers cannot be guided to stop all male-driven cars or Cadillacs.
3. A Reasonable Location must be Decided for the Checkpoint
Before deciding on the checkpoint site, it would be critical to consider an area where many DUI arrests have taken place. Such a location will be more effective as a checkpoint as opposed to areas where DUI arrests are hardly made.
4. Safety Precautions
It is essential for the area where the checkpoint will be set to be safe and accommodating of the traffic flow. A place where there is no room for motorists to navigate can result in traffic snarl-up as well as accidents. The area must also be well lit and easy to spot any oncoming motorists.
5. Reasonable time and duration
The law does not regulate how long a checkpoint should run. Despite the period the checkpoint remains in operation, motorists should not be overburdened. The time taken on each motorist should be minimal. The supervisor should be careful not to set the checkpoint on a busy stretch of the road or at a busy time of the day. Doing so helps avoid a buildup of traffic and inconveniencing motorists.
6. Checkpoint Signage
The supervisor must ensure that a checkpoint is marked with signage put up to warn motorists about it. Several police cars with flashing lights can also be strategically placed to warn oncoming motorists.
7. Time Taken with Each Driver must be Short
An effective checkpoint needs to detain the motorists for a short time. The field officers are trained on how to detect various signs of impairment. These include alcohol smell, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, dazed look, and incoherent responses. An officer will ask a few questions, and in a short amount of time, he or she should establish signs of impairment. If no indication of intoxication is noted, a motorist should be allowed to go immediately.
However, if an officer notices signs of impairment, he or he may ask the motorist to submit to a field sobriety test. If they suspect the motorist to be high on Marijuana, they can take a mouth cheek swab or a mouth swab for other drugs. The motorist can also be subjected to taking a breathalyzer test to determine alcohol content.
8. A Checkpoint must be Announced in Advance
Before setting up a checkpoint, it is advisable to notify the public at least a week before it is put up. The date and time of the inspection should be published on police websites, local dailies, televisions, or town websites.
What to Expect When Stopped at a Checkpoint
Police set up DUI checkpoints at small sections of a highway. Typically, this causes vehicles to merge lanes to fewer ones before making the stop. A field officer will ask the driver to roll down their window. The driver will be asked to display their registration and driver’s license.
Usually, the officer engages the driver in a brief discussion where the officer is keen to notice any slurred speech or incoherent answers. The officer will also be looking for other signs such as glazed eyes or the smell of alcohol. This is all done to establish whether the driver is intoxicated. If none of these signs is found, the driver is released to go.
However, if any of these signs of impairment are noticed, the driver will be pulled over and asked to submit to further field sobriety tests. If it is established the driver is driving under the influence, he or she is arrested and charged with a DUI offense.
When the officers suspect a driver to be intoxicated, they will look for further signs that may indicate the driver is drunk or drugged driving. Some of the things an officer may be on the lookout for include:
- Fumbling when getting the registration or license
- If the driver smells of alcohol
- Challenges in answering the officer back
- The presence of alcohol, drugs or their paraphernalia in the car
- The inability of the motorist to speak clearly and their eyes are glassy and red
As earlier mentioned, if a police officer has reason to suspect the driver of drunk or drugged driving, he or she will subject the driver to further tests. Based on the results of the various tests carried out, the driver may be charged with multiple offenses such as:
- Driving while your BAC is at 0.08% or more VEH 23152(b)
- DUI violations under VEH 23152(a)
- DUID violations VEH 23152(f) or
- Commercial DUI violations, Underage DUI, DUI by a taxi among other offenses
Avoiding a DUI Checkpoint by Making a U-Turn
The law does not prohibit anyone from making a U-turn to avoid going through a sobriety checkpoint. However, the turn must be done without violating any traffic laws and with safety in mind. Law enforcement officers carrying out the inspection should give motorists sufficient warning of a checkpoint. Those that feel they need to avoid it they, therefore, have enough time to make a turn and use an alternative route.
The rules prohibit officers from stopping motorists that have chosen to avoid a checkpoint. However, as earlier indicated, traffic rules must always be obeyed. A motorist can be arrested if while turning he or she:
- Violates a traffic rule
- Is noticed to have a defect on their vehicle such as a broken taillight
- Shows a clear sign of intoxication
Must a Driver Cooperate at a Checkpoint?
According to VEH 2814.2(a), it is a requirement for drivers that come to a checkpoint to stop and submit to the inspection. Once at the checkpoint, a person should not refuse to cooperate with the officers and their instructions. If you refuse to cooperate, you may be charged with an infraction.
However, submitting to sobriety tests, breath tests, or cheek swabs is not a must. The tests are optional, but sometimes refusing to take them may lead to a DUI arrest. However, if you get formally arrested, refusing to submit to a breath or blood test may be detrimental to your case. You may be said to have refused a chemical test, which may result in automatic penalties such as having your driver’s license suspended for one year.
Being Found at a Checkpoint without a License
The law expects every driver to have a driver’s license anytime they are driving. However, sometimes, one may not have their driving license with them due to various reasons. Whatever would happen when found without a driver’s license at a DUI checkpoint will depend on two things:
- Does the individual hold a valid driver’s license but doesn’t have it with them at the moment
- The individual is driving without a valid license
If a driver is found not carrying their license at a checkpoint, they can be charged with failing to display their driver’s license. This is a violation under VEH 12951. In most cases, this offense is an infraction in California, and the offender will be sentenced to pay a cash fine.
Should the driver be able to show that they indeed had their valid driver’s license at the time of inspection, the charges will be dropped.
However, sometimes, a driver may be driving without a driver’s license at all. His or her license is revoked or suspended but still driving. This is an offense and the motorist can be charged with either:
- Violations of VEH 12500 that is, operating a vehicle with an invalid license
- Violations of VEH 14601, driving while your license is on suspension
The good news, however, is that the motorist's car will not be held or impounded provided:
- The driver is not charged with any other offense such as a DUI offense or is not having a pending warrant and
- The vehicle owner, if not the driver, organizes for the vehicle to be released to a driver with a valid license as the checkpoint comes to an end
Before, traffic laws in California allowed law enforcement officers to hold vehicles whose drivers were unlicensed. Most drivers that found themselves at a DUI checkpoint without valid licenses would not be allowed to drive the cars. Instead, they were impounded. However, various arguments were raised that stopped this practice. Some of the arguments were:
- The move was an unfair one targeted on undocumented non-citizens who were not allowed to have a driver’s license yet they needed to have cars to go to work
- Impounding was an unreasonable violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights and
- The motivation for the impounding was due to financial incentives
The legislature, therefore, came up with a bill that drafted VEH 2814.2 prohibiting enforcement officers from impounding vehicles at DUI checkpoints. This is, however, only applicable if the driver is not arrested for any other offense at the time.
How to Know of an Upcoming DUI Checkpoint
Ideally, the public expects the enforcement unit or department that is planning to carry out a checkpoint to inform the public at least one week prior to having it operational. Because of this, the departments carrying out the checkpoint release official communication well in advance. To know when the next checkpoint will be, a person needs to check in the various police websites, local dailies, or TV news.
However, it is not a legal requirement for the public to be notified of a planned checkpoint in advance. This means that not every upcoming checkpoint will be publicized, and your only best bet is to obey the law.
Common DUI Offenses at DUI Checkpoints
A DUI checkpoint is set up to deter the public from drunk or drugged driving. Other violations, such as driving without a license or on a suspended license, are also discouraged. The law on DUI in California is strict with penalties varying depending on:
- Whether the defendant has prior DUI convictions in their record or
- Whether as a result of the DUI, a third party was injured, or the defendant caused a death.
Just like when a police officer will pull you up for suspected drunk or drugged driving, at a DUI checkpoint, if a motorist displays symptoms of intoxicated driving, they will be arrested. The offenses here are those of regular DUI because, at the checkpoint, a motorist has not caused an accident.
This means a defendant may either be charged with a 1st or 2nd or 3rd or 4th DUI simple offense. Most DUI offenses are prosecuted as misdemeanors. However, some factors can result in a DUI offense being charged as a felony.
Most arrests made at DUI checkpoints do not carry aggravating factors, and the suspect is likely to be charged with a simple DUI offense. A DUI offense is a priorable offense in California, meaning as one repeats the crime, the penalties become steeper. Below, we discuss the various violations a motorist can be arrested and charged for at a DUI checkpoint in California.
First Misdemeanor DUI Offense
At a DUI checkpoint, a motorist can display signs of intoxication. On further testing, he or she is found to be driving with a blood alcohol concentration beyond the legal limit. If it is your first time to drive intoxicated, you will be charged as a first time offender. The misdemeanor charges brought against you may lead to a conviction that carries the following penalties:
- Informal or summary probation lasting between three and five years
- A county jail sentence of not more than six months
- A cash fine ranging between $390 and $1,000
- Attending a court-approved DUI school for either three or nine months
- Sometimes the judge may order the defendant to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle and keep driving without restrictions. Other times, the judge can order a driver’s license suspension for six to ten months. A defendant can apply to have a restricted driver’s license that allows them to drive to specific places and back
Second Misdemeanor DUI Offense
If you are found to be drunk driving at a DUI checkpoint, you will be charged with a DUI offense. If your record indicates that you have one prior conviction for a DUI offense, the charges brought against you will be of a second misdemeanor offense. The penalties, in this case, will be steeper compared to those of a first time offender. A Conviction for this offense may result in the following penalties:
- Informal or summary probation lasting between three and five years
- County jail sentence lasting between ninety-six hours to a year
- Payment of cash fines ranging between $390 and $1,000
- Attending and completing a DUI school program for either eighteen or thirty months
- A mandatory order to install your vehicle with an ignition interlock device for a year, and you are allowed to drive. Alternatively, the Department of Motor vehicles can suspend your license for not less than two years. When this happens, a defendant can apply to get a restricted driver’s license after one year of the suspension.
Third Misdemeanor DUI Offense
As discussed before, field officers at a DUI checkpoint can arrest a drunk driving suspect if discovered at the checkpoint. If one is arrested for this offense and has two prior DUI convictions, the charges brought against them will be of a third-time offender. The penalties, in this case, are also steeper than for a second-time offender. If charged and convicted of a third time DUI offense, a defendant will face the following penalties:
- Informal probation lasting between three and five years
- County jail sentence lasting between 120 days to one year
- Cash fines ranging between $390 and $1,000
- Attending and completing a DUI school program as appointed by the court for thirty months
- A mandatory order to install an ignition interlock device for two years and be able to drive. Alternatively, the department of motor vehicles will suspend your license for not less than three years. However, after eighteen months, a person can apply to get a restricted driver’s license
Fourth Felony DUI Offense
If one is arrested at a checkpoint for drunk driving and has three previous convictions, the fourth offense is an automatic felony. Aggravating factors don’t need to be present for the violation to be a felony, but the mere fact that it is a fourth offense makes it a felony. If a motorist is charged with a fourth time DUI offense, he or she will face the following felony penalties that are steeper than misdemeanor penalties:
- State imprisonment for sixteen or twenty-four or thirty-six months
- Cash fines ranging between $390 and $1,000
- A mandatory order to install an ignition interlock device for a year or get your driver’s license suspended for four years
Driving with a Suspended License VEH 14601
Typically at a DUI checkpoint, a field officer will ask the motorist to display their registration and driver’s license. Under VEH 14601, it is an offense to drive with a revoked or suspended driver’s license. A person found driving under these circumstances will face misdemeanor charges on VEH 14601 violations. The penalties for this offense, however, depend on the reasons the license was suspended.
The penalties for this offense are equally harsh just as for DUI offenses. For instance, if your license was suspended or revoked due to reckless driving or drug addiction, the penalties can be severe. You are likely to be jailed for a minimum of five days and a maximum of six months in county jail. This sentence is in addition to a cash fine of between $300 and $1,000.
If your license was revoked due to a DUI offense and you are found driving, you risk county jail time of ten days in the minimum and six months to the maximum. The jail term is also in addition to a cash fine ranging between $300 and $1,000 and a mandatory IID installation.
Finding a Lawyer Near Me
DUI checkpoints are legally allowed in California, and the arrests after that are also legal. Most offenses motorists are arrested for are misdemeanors and, if successfully prosecuted, can result in steep penalties. Hiring a DUI defense lawyer can help you fight the charges that may come as a result of a DUI checkpoint. Your lawyer can challenge various issues around the checkpoint operations as well as apply suitable defense strategies in fighting the charges for you. At Darwish Law in Santa Ana, Orange County, we are experienced and passionate in designing your defense. Call us at 714-887-4810, and allow us to fight for you.