What are my legal rights at a DUI checkpoint?

Police officers use DUI checkpoints to test drivers for intoxication and prevent drunk driving. As a driver, you have legal rights at a DUI checkpoint. The checkpoints must meet several requirements to be legal in the United States and must uphold your sobriety checkpoint rights. It’s important for you to know your DUI checkpoint rights, should you ever come in contact with one on the road.

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Shaheen F. Manshoory is a trial attorney specializing in criminal defense law, specifically litigation of complex criminal matters in state, federal, and juvenile courts, including the defense of professionals, corporations, and high-profile matters. A graduate of SCALE, a two-year, fully accredited, Juris Doctor program at Southwestern School of Law, Mr. Manshoory focused on integrating substa...

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UPDATED: Jul 9, 2021

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  • DUI checkpoints must meet certain requirements in order to be legal
  • You can legally turn around if you see a sobriety checkpoint, but you cannot refuse officer requests once at the checkpoint
  • It’s important to know your legal rights at a DUI checkpoint so you can successfully navigate them

Police officers make use of DUI checkpoints to check for drivers who may be operating their vehicles under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These checkpoints can be found in many areas around the United States and can work in different ways. They may also be known as sobriety checkpoints or DUI roadblocks, and many people have questions about their legal rights at a DUI checkpoint.

This is because the legal situation at checkpoints is unique. Usually, police officers need a reason to stop vehicles and question drivers, but a 1990 California Supreme Court ruling held that DUI checkpoints are like administrative stops similar to security screenings at airports but to prevent drunk driving.

However, the court ruling indicated specific factors that must be weighed to determine whether a DUI checkpoint is legal. Knowing these legal factors can be critical in fighting a DUI checkpoint case. You may need a DUI attorney to help you completely understand the situation.

Before you learn about your rights at a DUI checkpoint, find an experienced lawyer in your area to represent your case.

It’s quite a complicated matter, but this guide will aim to provide answers to all the common questions you might have regarding your legal rights at DUI checkpoint and police checkpoint rights in general.

Why are DUI checkpoints legal in the first place?

One of the first questions many people have about checkpoints is “Are DUI checkpoints legal to begin with?” Well, the answer depends on where you’re located. DUI checkpoints are legal in most states, but several US states prohibit their usage entirely, so it’s wise to carry out your research and learn more about the specifics in your area.

On a general level, the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution explicitly prevents officers from carrying out a stop of a vehicle with some sort of cause or justification for doing so, like a suspicion of illegal activity. But this rule doesn’t apply at DUI checkpoints, where police can effectively stop anyone, so how are DUI checkpoints legal?

Well, it all goes back to the California Supreme Court’s decision in 1990. This is when California held that DUI checkpoints are an exception to the 4th Amendment rule, allowing officers to stop cars and question drivers without probable cause for suspecting them of any wrongdoing. The Courts likened checkpoints to administrative screenings like those conducted at security checkpoints at the airports.

The justification for this is that checkpoints can help to make roads safer and discourage people from drunk driving, and those who are innocent have nothing to fear apart from the small inconvenience of being briefly stopped on their journeys.

The court also imposed an 8-factor legal requirement for DUI sobriety checkpoints to be valid. The most common ones are that the checkpoint needs to be:

  • reasonably located,
  • motorists need to be stopped at random,
  • drivers should be detained for a minimum amount of time, and
  • the installation of roadblock signs publicly indicating the DUI sobriety checkpoint.

What do police do at legal checkpoints?

What do the police do at a DUI checkpoint?

DUI checkpoints can work in different ways, but in general, officers will establish a pattern and stop vehicles based on that pattern. For example, they might decide to stop every third car that passes through the checkpoint.

This is an important factor for a DUI checkpoint to be valid. It is also used to avoid any kind of bias or preference on the part of the officers. The 1990 California Supreme Court case ruling required that the criteria for stopping motorists must be neutral.

pon stopping the car, the officers will then speak with the driver and carry out some simple checks to look for signs of alcohol or drug use. If they suspect a driver of operating under the influence, police checkpoint rights allow the officers to ask the driver to step out, before conducting additional tests. If you think you need a DUI attorney, they help you completely understand the situation.

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Know Your Rights at a DUI Checkpoint

We’ve seen how DUI checkpoints are legal and how they work, but what are your actual rights at DUI checkpoints? Are you obliged to stop? Do you have to show your license and partake in sobriety tests?

Well, you do have an obligation to stop, if asked, at a DUI checkpoint, and you must show your license and comply with appropriate officer demands. However, you do have the right to refuse searches of your vehicle and sobriety tests, as well as having the right to avoid the checkpoint altogether, if it’s safe to do so.

However, it is important to note that if you are eventually arrested from a DUI checkpoint stop, you are required to provide a chemical sample to law enforcement or you risk a Driver’s License suspension from the California DMV.

Below are six frequently asked questions about DUI checkpoint rights.

#1 – Do you have to stop at a DUI checkpoint?

Yes, in general, if you are asked to stop at a DUI checkpoint then you must do so. Again, as mentioned earlier, the specifics can vary from state to state, but most areas agree that drivers must stop at these checkpoints.

#2 – Do I have to show my license at a DUI checkpoint?

Yes, you will need to show your license to the officers if you are stopped at a checkpoint and asked to do so. If you don’t have your license, you can provide the number, as long as you remember it, and the officer may allow you to continue on your journey. However, you might receive a ticket for not having your license.

#3 – Can you turn around if you see a DUI checkpoint?

In most cases, yes, you can legally turn around and avoid DUI checkpoints altogether to avoid being stopped and checked. In the past, police were able to pursue drivers who did this and stop them, potentially leading to arrests.

However, district courts have helped to change the rules regarding this situation, and police no longer have probable cause to pursue and stop people who make U-turns at roadblocks. So you are within your legal rights at a DUI checkpoint to avoid it altogether, if you want.

Practically speaking, law enforcement agencies normally give drivers sufficient warning to allow them to safely avoid a checkpoint.

This requirement is part of the 8-factor legal requirement imposed by the California Supreme court ruling. Namely, that drivers should be able to see that they are approaching an official DUI sobriety checkpoint.

The only caveat is that you need to make the U-turn safely, without violating any traffic laws. If you violate any laws or drive erratically or aggressively, the police could have cause to stop you.

#4 – Can the police search my car?

This depends on the case. In general, the 4th Amendment protects you from any illegal searches or seizures, giving you the right to refuse a search of your property and forcing officers to obtain a warrant if they want to do so.

But there are some exceptions. If you pull over at a DUI checkpoint with illegal items like weapons or drugs in plain view, officers will have probable cause to carry out a further search. They will also have this right if they arrest you.

Law enforcement also can search a vehicle incident to an arrest however this rule is not always black and white and with the help of an attorney you may be able to fight a search incident to an arrest.

#5 – Must police read Miranda rights at a DUI arrest?

Miranda rights are connected to the “Miranda Warning“, which is a statement that police officers say to a suspect if they are arresting them and intend to interrogate them under custody later on. Therefore, Miranda rights aren’t usually heard at DUI checkpoints unless someone is being arrested.

The officers have no reason or duty to provide a Miranda warning to drivers who are simply passing through or being stopped and questioned. These kinds of stops and questions aren’t classed in the same category as interrogations under custody, so the Miranda rights aren’t part of general DUI checkpoint rights.

#6 – Can I refuse a DUI checkpoint?

No, general DUI checkpoint rights do not allow for drivers to simply flee the scene or ignore officer requests. You have to comply if you are asked to stop and provide your license, otherwise, the officers will have reason to pursue and arrest you.

Field Sobriety Tests and Breathalyzers

As explained earlier, if an officer suspects a driver of being under the influence, they will ask them to step out of the vehicle to conduct field sobriety tests and make use of a breathalyzer device to check the driver’s blood-alcohol level.

Checkpoint officers are not only looking for indications of alcohol impairment but are now more frequently on the lookout for any type of impairment, in particular, someone being under the influence of cannabis. In fact, in some California counties, officers may ask drivers to submit to a cheek swab to test for DUI of marijuana or other drugs.

The breathalyzer test can give police cause for an arrest if the levels are too high. Levels can vary from state to state. So if you wonder “Can you be convicted of DUI if your BAC was 0.048?” or “What is the minimum BAC level for arrest?” the answers depend on the rules and laws in your location but the short answer is “yes.”

In terms of your legal rights at a DUI checkpoint, you are not legally obligated to volunteer for these tests, but refusing to do so can arouse further suspicion and give the police cause to carry out an arrest. If you are arrested, you will then need to take a chemical test anyway to avoid a Driver’s License suspension from the DMV.

DUI checkpoints can appear complex and intimidating, but as long as you know your rights and understand how checkpoints work, it’s much easier to navigate them.

It’s important to remember that you can legally avoid checkpoints, as long as you don’t break any rules of the road in the process.

However, if you do enter a checkpoint, you need to stop when asked and show the necessary documents, like your license and registration. If you break the rules of a DUI checkpoint, officers can have the right to arrest you and potentially search your vehicle too.

Now that you know what legal rights you have at a sobriety checkpoint, find a lawyer if you need legal assistance. Enter your ZIP code in our free tool to find experienced lawyers in your area.

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