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California sobriety checkpoints: Basic considerations

On Behalf of | Jul 28, 2021 | DUI

So-called “probable cause” is a preliminary threshold that must be met before police officers can mandate interaction with a citizen and subject him or her to a criminal search and seizure, right?

If you’re reading this blog post and nodding your head in the affirmative, consider your view a reasonable assumption.

And it unquestionably holds water … in most instances.

Not with DUI checkpoints, though. Arguably, those law enforcement tools (termed a number of ways, including sobriety checkpoints and DUI roadblocks) turn the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment mandate of probable cause and a reasonable search on its head. One in-depth national overview of checkpoints underscores that police “can stop every car on a blocked roadway [and] detain drivers without having reason to believe they did anything wrong.”

Roadblock rationale and legal source of authority

If you are a California driver ensnared in a DUI checkpoint, it’s certainly logical why you might ponder its merits and legality. Likely you did nothing wrong, neither being under the influence of alcohol nor having committed any other criminal act. And even if that is not the case, you perhaps gave law enforcers no reasonable basis for stopping your vehicle.

The U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t care a whit about that. The nation’s highest tribunal has essentially carved out an exception for roadblocks. The court’s ruling in a seminal case holds that checkpoints do not violate law when they amount to only minor disruptions for drivers and reasonably contained searches. A key balancing of interests dictates that keeping roads free of dangerous motorists is more important than a minor level of inconvenience posed for drivers.

Notwithstanding roadblock legality, there are lawful checks

Although not every state sanctions checkpoints, California does. Authorities deem them lawful under both the state and federal Constitution, and they are frequently conducted all across the state.

That doesn’t mean that drivers subjected to a summary and unexpected search don’t have rights. The Supreme Court’s nod to checkpoints is coupled with stated checks on how a roadblock must be set up, announced and administered. Drivers have filed legal challenges against roadblocks and won those contests on many occasions.

A driver with questions or concerns regarding a checkpoint, probable cause, search/seizure or any other aspect relevant to a DUI stop can secure candid guidance and diligent representation from a proven criminal defense legal team.