In recent days, law enforcement agencies have conducted DUI checkpoints scattered across Southern California, including in San Diego, Lemon Grove, Poway, Chula Vista and Escondido, among others. Officers stopped drivers to see if they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both.
The day before a recent checkpoint conducted about 25 miles north of Vista in Temecula, the city’s police department announced the coming checkpoint, assuring drivers that “the primary purpose of checkpoints is not to make arrests, but to promote public safety by deterring drivers from driving impaired.”
Why do police announce upcoming checkpoints?
In fact, public announcements precede all California DUI checkpoints, alerting people to the day, time and city in which they’ll be conducted. But why do police announce their intentions? Wouldn’t they be able to make more arrests for driving under the influence if checkpoints were kept secret?
The answer is simple: Law enforcement agencies make the announcements because a 1987 decision by the California Supreme Court requires them to do so.
Primary checkpoint purpose
More important, the court found in its landmark ruling in Ingersoll v. Palmer that checkpoints are lawful because their “the primary purpose” 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 on the public streets and highways.”
In other words, because checkpoints are not conducted as criminal investigations, but as a means of deterring impaired driving, police don’t need probable cause in order to stop drivers.
Police must follow these checkpoint rules
California’s high court created a set of eight rules in Ingersoll that continue to be followed by law enforcement agencies today:
- Supervising officers make all checkpoint operational decisions
- The basis for stopping motorists must be impartial and neutral
- Checkpoint locations must be reasonable
- Safety precautions must be taken
- The time and duration of the checkpoint must be reasonable
- Drivers should be detained for a minimal amount of time
- There must be signage indicating that an official checkpoint is being conducted
- Checkpoints must be publicly announced in advance
Required to stop
Drivers also have certain rules, requirements and rights that must be observed at checkpoints.
For instance, California law requires drivers who have entered a checkpoint to stop and comply with the officer’s instructions. That doesn’t mean you have to submit to a field sobriety test or a pre-arrest breath test, however. Those tests are optional.
Harsh penalty for refusing a post-arrest test
But refusing a blood or breath test after a DUI arrest can result in an automatic one-year driver’s license suspension.
If you have been charged with DUI at a checkpoint or anywhere else, you should discuss the circumstances and evidence in your case with a legal representative experienced in protecting rights, driving privileges and freedom in San Diego County and all of Southern California.