Roadblocks and DUI Checpoints...Are They Legal?

Posted by Chris Morales on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 @ 04:23 PM

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            In 1987 the California Court of Appeal considered whether sobriety checkpoints are permissible under the federal and state Constitutions. They concluded that sobriety checkpoints conducted in accordance with certain guidelines were permissible under the United States and California constitutions. One of those guidelines is advance publicity of the DUI checkpoint.

      The first ever sobriety checkpoint was conducted in Burlingame, California in November of 1984. The enforcing agency used the guidelines suggested in an opinion issued by the Attorney General's office earlier that year. The court in Ingersoll (43 Cal. 3d 1321) used the Burlingame sobriety checkpoint as a model for others and reviewed the standards, which should be applied when a police enforcement agency conducts such roadblocks.

      The court determined that sobriety checkpoints are permissible under the federal and state Constitutions, but the court said that: "the primary purpose of the [vehicle] stop was not to discover evidence of crime or to make arrests of drunk drivers but to promote public safety by deterring intoxicated persons from driving on the public streets and highways." Id. at 1328. However, if you ask any police officer what is the purpose behind sobriety checkpoints, most if not all will likely tell you, to discover evidence of crime and to make arrests of drunk drivers. The court's reasoning seems inconsistent with the way the law is actually being enforced so which is correct?

   In my opinion an experienced criminal lawyer should argue for his client that the sobriety checkpoint is not permissible because it was a warrantless criminal arrest and not administrative in nature, as the court in Ingersoll seems to suggest. In other words the court in Ingersoll seems to suggest that sobriety checkpoints can only be conducted for the purposes of deterring crime and not to enforce criminal laws. The difference being that an administrative search is one that allows only the deterrence of crime, but police officers may not circumvent law enforcement search procedures by merely labeling a vehicle stop as a deterrent, there must be violation prior to making a traffic stop.

    One caveat  to the above recommendation is to determine whether an administrative stop was combined with the criminal stop. For example, if the sobriety checkpoint is also a driver license checkpoint than the latter is administrative in nature and thus the roadblock is permissible. Id. at 1352 and Delaware v. Sprouse, 440 U.S. 648.

If you believe you may have received a DUI as a result of an illegal checkpoint, call Attorney Christopher Morales today to discuss your rights.  

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