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Legal Challenges

Even though unreasonable searches and seizures are banned by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, courts have ruled that sobriety checkpoints are lawful if they are conducted within certain guidelines. In order to be lawful, DUI sobriety checkpoints in California must follow specific protocol set forth by the U.S. and California Supreme Courts.

If California law enforcement officers do not follow those guidelines, any evidence gathered during the stop may be suppressed. The first step in fighting this type of drunk driving case is to learn as much as possible about the sobriety checkpoint. California criminal defense lawyer who specializes in DUI defense will use the pretrial discovery process to gain information and assess the constitutionality of the roadblock. The information the attorney will seek is as follows:

  • All memoranda, diagrams, and reports used in preparing and outlining the procedures involved in the roadblock;
  • Which police officials were responsible for selecting the site and procedures followed at the roadblock;
  • The identity of all involved law enforcement personnel, both sworn and civilian;
  • Whether a neutral formula was employed in stopping drivers, or whether officers used their own discretion;
  • Where field sobriety tests were performed, and who conducted them;
  • Where chemical tests were given, and who conducted them;
  • The name of each individual arrested at the roadblock. This information is necessary to determine whether proper procedures were actually followed, if defense counsel opts to interview them;
  • How long each driver was stopped at the checkpoint;
  • Whether police took steps to ensure that the safety of motorist was of primary concern;
  • How the location, timing and duration of the roadblock was determined;
  • Whether the public received advance notice of the checkpoint;
  • Whether the roadblock had an official appearance, including lights, warning signs, and uniformed personnel;
  • Whether drivers were allowed the opportunity to turn away from the roadblock without being detained

A DUI defense lawyer will analyze this information to find any discrepancies between the officers' actions and the requirements set by the courts. If police did not follow the proper protocol, and probable cause for a stop was absent, a DUI defense attorney will move to have any evidence suppressed.

An experienced California DUI defense attorney will argue that without a warrant or probable cause, the evidence should be excluded. The prosecutor then must prove that the evidence was the product of a lawful arrest.

If a sobriety checkpoint is not lawfully conducted, and no warrant is issued, police need probable cause to stop and arrest a driver. Probable cause to arrest exists when the facts known to the officer would lead a person of ordinary care and prudence to believe that the person is guilty of a crime. The officer must be able to state why he or she ordered the driver to stop and why the motorist was ordered to exit the vehicle.

The probable cause standard applies to each stage of the encounter, including chemical testing, performance of the field sobriety tests, and the arrest itself. If there was no probable cause, police conducted a warrantless search and seizure, and there is a strong likelihood that the court will grant the motion to suppress any evidence gathered at a checkpoint.

Many motorists in California arrested at sobriety checkpoints fear they face an automatic conviction. However, evidence obtained at an improperly conducted DUI sobriety checkpoint can be challenged with the help of a California DUI defense lawyer well-versed in the requirements of sobriety checkpoints.

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