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San Diego DUI Checkpoints

DUI checkpoints are controversial. They are arguably the most effective tool law enforcement has to reduce drunk driving, with an average of three to twenty drunk driving arrests made at every checkpoint in San Diego. But many citizens view them as an infringement on their rights.

However, California has ruled that DUI checkpoints do not infringe on a person’s Fourth Amendment rights, making them legal. Still, police have to follow guidelines to keep the arrests made during a DUI checkpoint legal.

San Diego DUI Checkpoint Guidelines

There are certain procedures police departments and officers must follow when setting up and manning a checkpoint:

  • Only supervising officers can determine how, when, and where DUI checkpoints will be set up. Field officers cannot decide on their own to set one up.
  • The criteria for stopping drivers must be made ahead of time, and must be based on a neutral mathematical component. This would include criteria such as stopping every fourth car; not stopping cars based on a driver’s appearance.
  • Checkpoints must be reasonably safe. This means that approaching drivers must be able to clearly see the checkpoint as they approach. The police department must also consider traffic patterns, the layout of the street, and any nearby intersections.
  • Checkpoints must take place during a reasonable time of the day and last for a reasonable amount of time. Most checkpoints take place on the weekend and late at night. Setting one up during rush hour would not be considered reasonable, nor would a checkpoint that lasted all night.
  • Officers must make the checkpoint clearly official to reduce fear on the part of drivers. Marked police cars, uniformed officers, and signs all indicate that the checkpoint is legitimate.
  • The initial stop must not be too intrusive. If a driver is stopped and does not show signs of intoxication, the stop should only last a few minutes. If an officer suspects a driver has been drinking, that driver can be directed to a secondary location nearby for further questioning and sobriety tests.

In addition to following these guidelines, many police departments will advertise when and where a checkpoint will be set up. This is a preventative measure that it is thought to actually reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road. Advertising is typically done in local newspapers, law enforcement websites, and on local radio stations. However, failure to warn of a DUI checkpoint in advance will not make that checkpoint unlawful.

Problems with DUI Checkpoint Arrests

If the officers do not abide by the above DUI checkpoint guidelines, it could make that checkpoint and any resulting arrests unlawful. There are two other common violations by officers when it comes to DUI checkpoints:

  1. Police officers are not allowed to chase, stop, or detain drivers who try to avoid the checkpoint. Even if the driver admits to making a turn to avoid the checkpoint, he cannot be stopped for doing so. If he is, any evidence collected after he was stopped may be thrown out.
  2. The handheld breath test officers use if they suspect someone of drunk driving can easily become damaged in the field, and even a small amount of damage can interfere with its calibration, resulting in an inaccurate reading. In addition, officers are required to observe an individual for 15 consecutive minutes before administering the breath test. In DUI arrest situations, and particularly DUI checkpoints, this requirement is often overlooked.

When DUI Checkpoints Go Wrong for Drivers

An officer’s failure to meet any one of these guidelines for a San Diego DUI checkpoint could result in your unlawful arrest. And when that happens, you will need a qualified attorney on your side who knows the law and will fight for your rights.

If you feel that you or a loved one has been unlawfully arrested for a DUI, contact San Diego criminal defense lawyer at JD Law today at (760) 630-2000.

Our founding attorney, James N. Dicks, is a board-certified criminal defense specialist who has attended numerous DUI classes and seminars. He understands what makes a DUI checkpoint lawful, and he will put that knowledge to work for you. Do not live with a DUI charge because you think you have no choice. Call today and get the help you need to fight it.

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James N. Dicks

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