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California Attorney Rahul Balaram Shares Sobriety Checkpoints FAQ

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Law enforcement continually finds ways to increase efforts in controlling DUIs and DWIS. However, their task force holds a tool in its belt that has been controversial and debatable since its inception, for over 25 years. While many individuals see it as an intrusion and violation of their Fourth Amendment rights, courts have allowed sobriety checkpoints to continue as long as they prove to be an effective tool for controlling drunk driving under strict regulations. 

Here, criminal defense attorney Rahul Balaram shares some of the frequently asked questions regarding sobriety checkpoints.

Does law enforcement have to notify the public about checkpoints?

Yes, law enforcement must share the location and time of the checkpoint with the public in advance. The reason for notification is to reduce drivers’ intrusiveness and actively deter individuals from driving under the influence.

How is the location of the checkpoint determined?

Policymakers are required to take multiple factors into account when deciding the location of a checkpoint. Some of those determining factors include statistics reflecting locations where many DUI arrests have taken place, and the location must be clearly visible to all drivers. It must also be in an area that is safe for both drivers and law enforcement personnel.

Is every car required to stop?

Law enforcement must have a policy or formula created ahead of time to determine how to conduct a stop. Every car may be stopped, or enforcement may select to question every fifth car, for example.

Do you have to pass through a checkpoint?

The laws surrounding checkpoints require them to be set up in a way in which a driver can see the stop from a distance and have the ability to turn around or detour from that avenue without any issue. While legally, a driver can turn around, it is relatively common for law enforcement to carefully monitor those who choose to detour from a stop to ensure no suspicious behavior or reason to stop.

What rights does an individual have if they are required to stop?

While checkpoints must follow their list of policies to be legal, law enforcement must still have some sort of reasonable suspicion that a person is under the influence to require a driver to stop or pull over. An individual must have been driving suspiciously, have the smell of alcohol on their breath, bloodshot eyes, or other symptoms commonly associated with being inebriated.

Does one have to agree to the testing?

A common misconception is that that field sobriety tests are required by law. Any driver has the right to refuse a sobriety test in the field. Law enforcement frequently uses the results of field sobriety tests as a probable cause to arrest an individual. Most instances, however, an arrest can still take place even if a driver does not consent to take an FST. Most states have “implied consent laws” in which a driver who has been arrested under suspicion of a DUI must take a blood alcohol content test.

Sobriety checkpoints must follow the law consistently and be set up correctly. If there are any flaws or inconsistencies, evidence collected at a checkpoint can often be challenged or thrown out in a court hearing.

About Rahul Balaram

Rahul Balaram worked as a Public Defender for Solano County for many years and has represented hundreds of clients. Most recently, he worked on the misdemeanor conflict panel representing indigent clients. Rahul can be contacted at the Balaram Law Office in Santa Rosa and is available for consultation by phone and text 24/7. He represents his clients with dignity, compassion, and competence.