You find yourself driving home after you’ve had a few. In the distance you see what appears to be traffic lights followed by a sign that you can’t quite make out. As the sign becomes clearly visible, you feel your stomach drop and pulse race, “CHECKPOINT AHEAD”. Panic ensues and you begin to weigh your options, none of which sound appealing.
- Suspiciously avoid the checkpoint, or
- Keep going and take your chances.
According to California law, it is completely legal to avoid a checkpoint or perform a U-turn to avoid a checkpoint, so long as it is done safely without violating traffic laws. The police cannot stop someone for simply avoiding a checkpoint if done so legally, but lets be honest, they probably will anyway. A California CHP officer once told me in confidence, “If we really want to pull someone over, we can find a way.”
As one can clearly see, the legality of intentionally avoiding a DUI checkpoint is an extreme grey area for the driver as well as police. In 1987’s landmark Ingersoll v. Palmer, the California Supreme Court carved out a finite list of mandatory guidelines all checkpoints must adhere to:
1. Decision Making at Supervisory Level–
The selection of the site and the procedures for the checkpoint operation should be made and established by supervisory law enforcement personnel, and not by a field officer.
2. Limits on Discretion of Field Officers–
A numeric formula such as every car, every other, or every fifth car shall be employed. To permit an officer to stop any driver when there is no legitimate basis for the determination would be to sanction the kind of unconstrained and standardless discretion outlined by the fourth amendment.
3. Reasonable Location–
The site chosen should be those which will be the most effective in achieving the governmental interest (Roads having a high incidence of alcohol related accidents and arrests).
4. Time and Duration–
The planned time of the day must weigh the balance of intrusiveness and effectiveness
5. Indicia of Official Nature of Roadblocks–
The roadblocks should be established with high visibility including but not limited to: Warning sighs, flashing lights, adequate lighting, police vehicles and the presence of uniformed officers.
6. Length and Nature of Detention
Each motorist stopped should be detained only long enough for the officer to question the driver and look for signs of intoxication such as alcohol on breath, slurred speech and or glossy eyes. If the driver does not display signs of impairment, he or she should be permitted to drive on without further delay.
7. Advanced Publicity
Publicity reduces the intrusiveness of the stop and increases the deterrent effect on the roadblock.
Criminal defense attorney Debra S. White has been a proponent of holding law enforcement to a higher standard when situations of legal impropriety arise. She aggressively investigates the actions of law enforcement to challenge these checkpoint guidelines and to defend her clients arrested for drunk driving. Ms. White has been successfully fighting DUI arrests and DUI checkpoints in Los Angeles criminal courts for more than a decade.