Sobriety Checkpoints

March 10, 2009

Sobriety checkpoints are becoming all to common and are frequently used before major holidays and sporting events. I am frequently asked about the legality of these checkpoints.

In California, police departments use sobriety checkpoints at various times and to varying degrees. While some confusion exists over their legality, checkpoints are lawful if properly conducted and follow certain procedures and guidelines.

Whether or not a checkpoint is lawful depends on many factors, some of which are:

  • whether it is in a reasonable location;
  • whether the police department provided advanced notice of its location;
  • the reasonableness of the time and duration of said checkpoint;
  • whether it is safe to motorists.

To be sure, there are many other factors too — and no one single factor is determinative of whether a checkpoint is valid or not. The court will generally look to the totality of the circumstances to determine its validity. Moreover, some factors are more important than others. Suffice it to say, however, that anyone arrested for DUI at a checkpoint should have an experienced attorney review all the information relating not only to the arrest, but to the circumstances and validity surrounding the sobriety checkpoint itself.

Can one legally avoid a checkpoint? Provided that he does so in a safe and legal manner (a legal turn onto another street, or a legal u-turn –prior to entering the checkpoint, etc…) the answer is generally “yes.” If your in the “chute,” however, and/or are already waiting at the checkpoint–then you cannot legally turn off or avoid it.