On a Friday afternoon, you and your friends decide to celebrate the end of a long workweek by heading to happy hour at your favorite restaurant. After having a couple of drinks, you head home. As you near your neighborhood, you notice ahead of you a row of traffic cones, a couple of patrol cars, flashing lights, and police officers in the street stopping a line of cars. These are the telltale signs of a sobriety checkpoint. What can you do at this point?
The Law of Sobriety Checkpoints
The landmark DUI case in California is Ingersoll v. Palmer, (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1321. It is the case that provides the rule that law enforcement and drivers must follow regarding sobriety checkpoints. First, California’s Supreme Court determined that supervising officers, not field officers, must set the ground rules of where, how and when the checkpoints will operate. Ingersoll also provides that sobriety checkpoints must be reasonably located.
This means that safety must be considered in choosing the appropriate location. This also means that checkpoints must be placed in locations that have a high rate of alcohol related accidents or arrests. Sobriety checkpoints must be publicly advertised in local media prior to when they are set up and be located in a highly visible area.
A sobriety checkpoint must be set up in a way that you have the opportunity to drive away from the checkpoint if you do not wish to stop. You cannot be stopped just because you avoided the checkpoint. Rather, your stop must be justified on other grounds, including a traffic violation or driving in a way that displays obvious signs of intoxication.
Remember the Rules of the Road
If you decide to turn away from the checkpoint, be careful when you do so. While turning to avoid a checkpoint is not illegal, many drivers who choose to escape the checkpoint are still pulled over because they forget to drive within the rules of the road. You must always remember that where there is a checkpoint, there are likely to be other officers patrolling in the area as well.
Any violation of a traffic law will give the officers probable cause to stop you. Be sure to avoid making illegal turns, driving onto a sidewalk or median, or even forgetting to use your turn signal. Check that your brake and headlights are functioning properly before you go out for the evening, and be sure your tags are current.
What If it’s Too Late to Turn Around?
Suppose you did not realize that you were heading into the checkpoint and you are asked to show your license. California has merged sobriety checkpoints with license checkpoints, which means that the checkpoints are supposedly serving the dual purpose of catching drivers without licenses and drivers who are under the influence. This generally means that you do have to give the officer your license when asked.
Are you required to answer any of the officer’s questions? The answer is absolutely not. In fact, you do not have to say a single word to the officer. You have a constitutional right to not provide incriminating statements against yourself. Even if you answer the most harmless of questions, the officer may become suspicious if you suddenly stop answering his or her questions. It is best to inform the officer that you will not be answering any questions, and you are exercising your right to remain silent.
What about field sobriety tests? If you are over the age of 21, you have the right to not provide incriminating evidence against yourself by participating in a field sobriety test. These tests are subjective evaluations of your sobriety and, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Board, many of these tests are unreliable.
Finally, you might be asked to perform a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test. This is more commonly known as the Breathalyzer test. If you have not been arrested, you can legally refuse this test. However, if you are arrested on suspicion of DUI, and refuse to take a chemical test by submitting a blood, breath, or urine sample, you can lose your license for one year under California’s implied consent law, found in California Vehicle Code section 23612.
Punishment Arising Out of a Sobriety Checkpoint
The punishment for a DUI is equally severe whether you are stopped at a sobriety checkpoint or not.
If convicted for a first-time DUI under CVC 23152, you could be imprisoned in county jail for up to six months and fined up to $1,000. The actual fine with all penalty assessments will come to close to $2,000 in most courts in California.
If convicted under CVC 23152, the DMV will suspend your driver’s license for six months, pursuant to CVC 13352.
Further, if you are convicted under CVC 23152 or CVC 23153 and are put on probation, it will last from 3 to 5 years. During this time you will be required not to drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in your system. Per your probation, you will be required to complete a “driving under the influence” program.
Contact the DUI Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich
If you are charged with a DUI as a result of being stopped at a sobriety checkpoint, you will need an experienced and aggressive attorney to help you win your case. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have been successfully defending our clients against DUI charges for more than 30 years. Contact us today for a free, no obligation consultation and let us help you too.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is a Wallin & Klarich attorney experienced in California’s vehicle laws near you, no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.