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10 Things to Know About DUI Checkpoints in California

Police officers may arrest a driver for driving under the influence “DUI” at a sobriety checkpoint. Probable cause is not needed to stop a driver at a DUI checkpoint. But if you get arrested at a DUI checkpoint, you may still be able to challenge the arrest based on constitutional grounds because DUI checkpoints still need to comply with the United States and California constitutional requirements to be considered valid.

For a California DUI checkpoint to be valid, it must comply with the following requirements as outlined in the case of Ingersoll v. Palmer:[1]

  1. Role of supervisory personnel
  2. Restriction on discretion of field offices
  3. Safety
  4. Reasonable location
  5. Indicia of official nature of roadblock
  6. Length and nature of detention
  7. Advance publicity

DUI checkpoints must comply with all of the above-mentioned requirements. If not, a driver arrested at a DUI checkpoint may challenge the arrest based on constitutional grounds. These requirements will be explained better further on in this article.

Our California DUI defense attorneys will provide you with a better understanding of DUI checkpoints in the following article with 10 key points.

1. Constitutionality of Sobriety Checkpoints in California

Establishing DUI checkpoints are allowed under the U.S. and California constitutions. According to the California Supreme Court, DUI checkpoints are “administrative inspections,” similar to airport screenings.[2] Therefore, DUI checkpoints are an exception to the Fourth Amendment requirement. (i.e. an officer does not need to have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to initiate a DUI investigation at a DUI checkpoint)

2. What to Expect When Stopped at a DUI Checkpoint

A portion of the road will be sectioned off by California law enforcement. The traffic will merge to one or two lanes and officers will be stationed at the area where they will stop oncoming vehicles to conduct an inspection.

A driver will be asked to roll down their window and the officer will ask the driver to present their driver’s license and registration.

The officer will usually engage the driver in a short discussion which will help the officer gauge if the driver is under the influence.

Factors that May Lead to Arrest at a DUI Checkpoint

An officer at a DUI checkpoint will question the driver briefly and 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, the driver will be permitted to drive on without further delay.

If the officer does observe symptoms of impairment, the driver may be directed to a separate area for a roadside sobriety test (i.e. field sobriety test, DUI mouth swab test, Preliminary Alcohol Screening “PAS Test”, etc.). If this happens, the general principles of detention and arrest take over.

3. Rules and Regulations for DUI Checkpoints

As mentioned previously, DUI checkpoints in themselves are valid but failure to follow 8 legal requirements may a specific DUI checkpoint unconstitutional. Therefore, arrests made at a DUI checkpoint that failed to follow the strict legal requirements can be contested on constitutional grounds.

Ingersoll v. Palmer Case

Ingersoll v. Palmer[3] is a landmark California Supreme Court case that provided the specific requirements that a DUI checkpoint must comply with for it to be considered valid and constitutional. The requirements are as follows:

  1. Role of supervisory personnel - Supervisory law enforcement personnel are the ones to decide on the establishment of a DUI checkpoint, the selection of a site, and the procedures for its operation (not the field officers).
  2. Restriction on discretion of field offices- Field officers are not allowed to exercise discretion in choosing which motorists to detain, it must be based upon a mathematical selection formula (i.e., all drivers, or every second driver, or third, fifth, etc. driver).
  3. Safety – DUI checkpoints must be located in areas where a high degree of safety can be assured.
  4. Reasonable location – Checkpoint locations must reasonably suit the goals of safety and the goal of effectively deterring drunk driving and locating drunk drivers.
  5. Time and duration – The time and duration of DUI checkpoints must be based on the sound judgment of the law enforcement supervisory personnel.
  6. Indicia of official nature of roadblock – DUI checkpoints should be established with high visibility, including warning signs, flashing lights, flares, police vehicles, and the presence of uniformed officers.
  7. Length and nature of detention – Each motorist who is 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.
  8. Advance publicity – The public must be given advance notice that sobriety checkpoints are planned, usually by announcement through media (i.e. law-enforcement website, local news stations, local newspapers, advertising, etc.).

4. Turning Around to Avoid a DUI Checkpoint

It is not illegal to avoid passing through a DUI checkpoint. While there is no law preventing a driver from turning around to avoid a DUI checkpoint, the driver should do this safely.

Usually, visible markers will indicate that a driver will be approaching an area that has a DUI checkpoint. However, keep in mind that normal traffic rules still apply and you may still be pulled over for traffic violations if you attempt to avoid a DUI checkpoint.

For example, you cannot turn around and go against the flow of traffic on a one-way street. You may also be pulled over if your vehicle has a defect such as a broken tail light.

5. Refusal to Cooperate at a DUI Checkpoint

According to California law,[4] “a driver of a motor vehicle shall stop and submit to a sobriety checkpoint inspection conducted by a law enforcement agency when signs and displays are posted requiring that stop”. This means that all drivers passing through a DUI checkpoint are required to stop.

You need to cooperate when asked to stop because it is required by law. You will be charged with an infraction should you refuse to cooperate at a DUI checkpoint. But keep in mind that this only applies to stopping the vehicle at the checkpoint. This does not mean that you are required to submit yourself to field sobriety tests or PAS tests when asked. These are optional and you can refuse to take these tests. However, keep in mind that the police officer might still arrest for suspected DUI if you are exhibiting obvious signs of intoxication.

Should you be arrested, refusing to take the post-arrest chemical test (blood or breath test conducted after a lawful arrest), will result in what is called a "chemical test refusal." These also have consequences such as automatic suspension of your driver’s license for one year.

6. Driving Without a License

There are two possible scenarios when a driver is stopped at a DUI checkpoint and is caught without a license:

  • The driver has a valid driver’s license however they do not have it with them or in their vehicle
  • The driver does not have a valid driver’s license (i.e. suspended or no driver’s license issued to them at all)

In the situation that you do have a valid driver's license but it is unfortunately not with you during a stop at a DUI checkpoint, you might be charged with failure to display a valid driver's license under California Vehicle Code §12951. If you can prove that you did have it with you at the time of the stop, the charges will most likely be dropped.

However, it is a different scenario if you do not have a valid driver's license at all at the time of the stop at the DUI checkpoint. You can be charged with either driving without a valid license under California Vehicle Code §12500 or driving on a suspended license under California Vehicle Code §14601.

Keep in mind that under California Vehicle Code §2814.2,[5] prohibits the immediate impoundment of a vehicle at a sobriety checkpoint if the only offense is driving without a valid driver’s license. This does not apply if you are also being arrested for a DUI or other outstanding warrant. In such a case, the vehicle will most likely be impounded.

7. Knowing in Advance Where the Checkpoints Will be Located

The best way to know in advance is to check official releases by the law enforcement agency. You can check police official websites or local news for any such announcement for any DUI checkpoints.

In addition, smartphone applications will usually have this information available on their platforms. For example, traffic navigation apps such as Waze usually have indications of the presence of accidents, law enforcement, road construction, etc. because the Waze application allows users to indicate such matters on the application itself, which in turn alerts other users. However, this is still subject to the current state of the laws. Some applications will not publish DUI checkpoints that were not officially announced by law enforcement agencies.

8. Recent DUI Checkpoints in California

The Oxnard police department stopped close to 1000 vehicles and arrested 3 drivers in a DUI checkpoint they established in July of 2018.[6] The location of that specific checkpoint was chosen due to previous incidents of DUI related accidents.

In more recent news, on October 1st, 2020, the Fairfield police department in Solano County announced that they will be establishing a DUI roadblock on 1700 block of North Texas Street on October 2nd, 2020 via a news website.[7] This was due to their efforts to deter DUIs in the area.

9. Find a Lawyer Who Has Dealt Specifically with Checkpoint DUIs

DUIs are a complicated charge to face due to the intricacies and differing circumstances surrounding each case. Checkpoints DUIs are even more complicated due to the fact that probable cause is not needed to effect an arrest at a DUI checkpoint. The defenses that may be raised are limited in a checkpoint DUI, and it requires experience and expertise on the part of the lawyer to navigate the intricacies of a checkpoint DUI. Make sure to find a lawyer who has specifically dealt with checkpoint DUIs in the past to avoid the severe penalties of a DUI conviction.

10. Don’t Take the DMV Hearing for Granted

DMV hearings goes hand-in-hand with a DUI charge. Keep in mind that it is a separate and different procedure from the court hearing. A DMV hearing specifically deals with the suspension of the driver’s license while the court case deals with the criminal aspect of a DUI offense. If you have been arrested for a DUI, you will only be given 10 days from the date of arrest to schedule a hearing with the DMV to contest the suspension of your license. If you do not set a schedule with the DMV within those 10 days, your driver’s license will be automatically suspended and it now becomes an uphill battle to have the suspension overturned. Make sure to contact the DMV for scheduling within those 10 days. DMV hearings are difficult to navigate and win so you should consult with an experienced DUI defense attorney for your DMV hearing so you can avoid having your license suspended.

A DUI charge is a difficult thing to manage and navigate on your own. You want to avoid a DUI conviction at all costs because it can have a severe impact on your life. Although we are fielding inquiries from a lot of people in similar situations, we will do our best to put you in contact with an experienced DUI lawyer from our firm.

If you need assistance with a DUI charge or arrest, do not hesitate to contact us and call (626) 827-7222 to schedule your consultation with one of our experienced DUI attorneys at no cost. 


[1] DUI checkpoint requirements as outlined in Ingersoll v. Palmer, 43 Cal.3d 1321 (1987)

[2] Id.

[3] Supra note 1

[4] California Vehicle Code §2814.2 (a)

[5] California Assembly Bill 353

[6] Please see https://www.vcstar.com/story/news/local/communities/oxnard/2018/07/14/dui-checkpoint-oxnard-leads-arrest/785359002/

[7] Please see https://www.thereporter.com/2020/10/01/fairfield-police-to-conduct-dui-checkpoint-friday/

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