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Legal Requirements

California law enforcement officers including members of the California Highway Patrol (CHP), or sheriff's deputies must follow strict checkpoint procedures in keeping with federal and state legal decisions outlined by the California Supreme Court in the Ingersoll vs. Palmer case. If police officers do not follow the protocol described in Ingersoll, the DUI checkpoint is not lawful, and any evidence gathered during an arrest may not be admissible in criminal court, or at the California DMV hearing. A California criminal attorney who concentrates on defending DUI cases can determine whether a sobriety checkpoint was conducted legally.

In the Ingersoll decision, the Supreme Court identified eight requirements that minimize the intrusiveness on the individual, while balancing the needs of society to keep drunk drivers off the road.

The location of sobriety checkpoints and the decision to establish one must be made by supervisory officers. This requirement is especially important to reduce the potential for arbitrary and random enforcement.

The Supreme Court also limited the discretion of police to stop drivers at checkpoints. Police must use a neutral mathematical formula in deciding which vehicles to stop, such as every third, fifth, or tenth driver. This takes away an individual officer's discretion to choose to stop drivers without any legitimate basis.

Maintaining safety for motorists and police officers must also be a prime consideration. To reduce the danger to drivers and police, warning signs and signals, proper lighting, and clearly identifiable official vehicles and personnel must be used. The roadblock should only be operated when the traffic volume allows the operation to be conducted safely.

The locations of sobriety checkpoints also are regulated. A supervisory officer should choose a location based on the likelihood of actually stopping drunk drivers, such as roads which have a high incidence of alcohol-related accidents and arrests.

The duration and timing of sobriety roadblocks also are of importance. Police must use good judgment in choosing times and durations that will be most effective and protect the safety of motorists. So long as these considerations are in effect, there are no strict rules as to the timing or duration of the roadblock.

Sobriety checkpoints also must be highly visible so that motorists can easily see the nature of the roadblock. The features that promote high visibility include adequate lighting, flashing warning lights, police vehicles, and the presence of uniformed officers. Not only are such factors important for safety reasons, but advance warning will reassure motorists that the stop is duly authorized.

Law enforcement officers should stop each driver only long enough to ask brief questions and to look for signs of intoxication, such as alcohol on the breath, slurred speech, and glassy or bloodshot eyes. If the driver shows no sign of impairment, he or she should be permitted to drive on without further delay. If the officer does observe signs of impairment, the driver can be sent to a separate area for a field sobriety test. At that point, further DUI investigation must be based on probable cause, and general principles of detention and arrest would apply.

Police planning a sobriety checkpoint must provide advance notice of the roadblock to the public, although they are not required to disclose its specific location. Public announcements reduce the intrusiveness of the stop and increase the deterrent effect of the roadblock. Advance notice also serves to establish the legitimacy of roadblocks in the minds of motorists.

The Supreme Court also held that drivers cannot be stopped and detained merely because they tried to avoid the roadblock. However, if the driver commits a vehicle code violation or displays obvious signs of intoxication, police can pull the motorist over based on probable cause.

Even though the Ingersoll decision legitimized sobriety checkpoints, it also set strict requirements for police operating roadblocks. If police do not follow the rules set by the Supreme Court, any evidence gathered during the stop may be suppressed as a violation of the driver's Fourth Amendment rights.

San Francisco Bay Area DUI defense lawyers at the Law Office of Robert Tayac are well-versed in the requirements of sobriety checkpoints and can determine whether a DUI arrest made was valid.

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