DUI Checkpoints and Traffic Stops

Drunk Driving Defense Attorneys Assisting People in the Sacramento Area

Often, local law enforcement agencies set up DUI checkpoints or conduct traffic stops to ferret out drunk drivers. These checkpoints are especially common near holidays associated with drinking, such as New Year's Eve. If you are charged with a DUI, you may be concerned about the legality of DUI checkpoints and traffic stops. In some cases, a traffic stop or checkpoint is unconstitutional, and this can be used as part of a successful defense strategy against a first-time or repeat DUI charge. Our experienced Sacramento DUI attorney, Travis G. Black, may be able to provide a knowledgeable defense to DUI charges.

DUI Checkpoints and Traffic Stops

The United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment. In many cases, searches must be performed pursuant to a warrant, but it is sometimes permissible to proceed without a warrant under certain circumstances, particularly in connection with traffic stops when there is probable cause for law enforcement to believe that it is necessary. For example, a search incident to arrest is usually considered appropriate because an officer already has probable cause to believe that you have done something wrong if they are arresting you.

However, searches and seizures that are unduly burdensome or overly intrusive are usually not considered reasonable. Police stopping a driver is considered a seizure because you must stop and are not allowed to leave until the police permit it. However, at a checkpoint, every driver is stopped, even though there is no reasonable suspicion that they have done something wrong. In a Supreme Court case involving checkpoints, the justices concluded that the government's need to stop drunk driving accidents outweighed a minor incursion on sober drivers' rights. The checkpoint was not considered an unreasonable search and seizure.

In California, sobriety checkpoints are legal. Typically, a driver is stopped for a short time and interviewed to determine whether there are enough suspicious signs to administer a chemical or field sobriety test. However, to meet the standards set by the Supreme Court and the California Constitution, the following parameters are to be followed:

  • Supervising officers need to make operational decisions;
  • The reasons for stopping a driver need to be neutral;
  • The checkpoints need to be located in a reasonable place, and how long they last should show good judgment by the officers;
  • Appropriate safety precautions should be taken;
  • The checkpoint needs to show signs of being official;
  • Drivers need to be stopped for a minimal amount of time; and
  • The roadblock is supposed to be advertised to the public beforehand.

If you believe that these technical parameters were not followed for a sobriety checkpoint at which you were pulled over and tested, your attorney may be able to make a related defense against a DUI charge based on the test.

When a stop occurs outside these parameters, a police officer is supposed to have a reasonable suspicion that you are driving under the influence or otherwise involved in criminal activity to stop your vehicle. The reasonable suspicion needs to be more than a hunch. There are a number of suspicious behaviors that can give rise to the "reasonable suspicion" necessary to pull you over. For example, if you run a traffic light or weave through traffic in an unsafe way, if you perform a rolling stop at a stop sign, or if you match the description of a hit and run driver, these are likely to be valid reasons for the police to pull you over. However, if a police officer simply has a hunch that you might be a drunk driver, this is not enough. In that case, it may be appropriate to file a motion to suppress any evidence that was obtained during the illegal stop, including chemical or field sobriety test results that could be used to convict you.

Retain a Dedicated DUI Defense Lawyer in the Sacramento Area

If you are pulled over at a DUI checkpoint or traffic stop in the Sacramento area and charged with a DUI, you should retain an experienced criminal defense attorney. At Travis G. Black & Associates, our principal formerly worked in law enforcement and may be able to put his insights about police procedures to work for you. We provide skillful legal representation to people charged with DUIs from our Folsom office. For a free consultation, call Travis G. Black & Associates at 916-962-2896 or submit our online form.