Sobriety Checkpoints

Sobriety CheckpointsSobriety checkpoints are temporary roadblocks on public streets or roadways designed to snare drunk drivers and cite others for violations of the vehicle code. The courts have established strict guidelines to govern the operation of sobriety checkpoints. Anyone arrested for DUI / DWI at a sobriety checkpoint should contact an experienced California attorney who specializes in drunk driving defense to determine whether the checkpoint was operated according to these guidelines.

Sobriety checkpoints must be set up along established guidelines, as mandated by the California Supreme Court in the precedent-setting Ingersoll vs. Palmer case. A sobriety checkpoint must be announced to the public in advance and set up by command law enforcement officers, not officers in the field. Vehicles must be selected using a neutral mathematical formula, and the checkpoints must be maintained safely for both police and motorists, have high visibility, and minimize the average time each motorist is detained.

Each motorist stopped should be detained only long enough for the officer to question the driver briefly and to look for signs of intoxication, such as alcohol on the breath, slurred speech, and glassy or bloodshot eyes. If the driver does not display signs of impairment, he or she should be permitted to drive on without further delay. If the officer does observe signs of impairment, the driver may be directed to a separate area for a field sobriety test. At that point, further investigation must be based on probable cause, and general principles of detention and arrest would apply.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the primary purpose of a sobriety checkpoint is not to discover evidence of crime or to make arrests of drunk drivers, but to promote public safety by deterring intoxicated persons from driving and endangering the public. Thus, a sobriety checkpoint roadblock serves a regulatory purpose and is not considered a criminal investigation roadblock, and no warrant is required.

The United States Supreme Court has held that a vehicle stopped at a roadblock is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. A Fourth Amendment seizure occurs “when there is a governmental termination of freedom of movement through means intentionally applied”.

The question then becomes whether such seizures are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. It has been determined that not all roadblocks violate the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. In order to determine whether there has been a Fourth Amendment violation, courts apply a balancing test which weighs the government’s interests against the intrusiveness of the detention on the individual.

In order to determine whether a sobriety checkpoint was operated within established guidelines, an experienced DUI / DWI lawyer will evaluate every aspect of the checkpoint to determine whether it meets the established guidelines. If the checkpoint was not operated properly, the attorney will argue that any evidence gathered during the stop was improperly obtained, and should be suppressed.

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