As we near the holidays, there is often an increase in the number of people arrested for Driving Under the Influence. Many of these arrests come from DUI checkpoints where drivers are stopped and interrogated by police without having done anything wrong in the first place.
The primary purpose for sobriety checkpoints is to DETER drunk driving rather than to arrest offenders. This means that officers do not have to follow the Fourth Amendment safeguarding against illegal search and seizure and can stop you for doing nothing wrong. Because the length of the stop is very brief, the inconvenience to the driver is deemed by the courts to be outweighed by public safety need.
While the checkpoint process may seem inconvenient and a hassle, it has been proven to deter drunk driving. Additionally, it is not widely known by the public, but every checkpoint is held to high standards and regulations. A case in 1987 set the base guidelines which are still currently used, called the Ingersall guidelines (Ingersall v Palmer). In summary, the Ingersall guidelines prevent the officers in the field from just picking and choosing people to stop based on bias.
Required Police Procedure
There are many common legal mistakes made by officer utilizing checkpoints that can be exploited to the benefit of our clients. These include:
- Only supervisors can makes decisions regarding the checkpoint, not each officer in the field. This prevents officers picking and choosing who they want to stop.
- The location of the checkpoint cannot be arbitrary, there has to be statistical data showing why the area chosen has a need for deterrence (numerous moving violations, accidents, etc…).
- The time and duration of the checkpoint must be in conjunction with the data in #2. A checkpoint at 10am versus 10pm may be needed, but the data must back it.
- The checkpoint should be published before the event, such as an article in the local paper.
- There should be proper signage leading up to the actual checkpoint. Generally, a mobile sign on a trailer is placed a block or so in front of the checkpoint to alert the public why they are being stopped.
- The length of time a driver is actually stopped must be minimal. This means just enough time for the officer to identify him/herself, state the reason for the checkpoint, and ask for a valid driver's license. This should take no more than a couple of seconds.
However, if the officer notes symptoms of impairment (such as red watery eyes, slurred speech, unable to follow directions), they have the right to tell the driver to pull to the side of the road for a secondary evaluation.
- And most importantly, the officers must employ a neutral formula when stopping cars. A neutral formula is when the officers stop every third car, or every fifth car, etc. At no time should the line officers have discretion to stop whomever they want, without lack of probable cause. If traffic backs up, they may deviate from the neutral formula and let all the cars go. Or, if traffic is very light, they may stop every car. Whenever the neutral formula is deviated from, it must be documented and explained in the checkpoint report.
Can I avoid a checkpoint?
Yes. Checkpoints should have a point prior to the checkpoint where they can avoid the stop. While it is true there are generally "chase" officers watching for drivers avoiding the checkpoint, they may not pull a driver over for merely opting to avoid it. The officer must have probable cause.
On that note, if you opt to avoid it, follow all the rules of the road. This includes using your blinkers, proper speed, not driving through the cone or flare patterns, etc.
Checkpoints are very technical to conduct and specific guidelines must be followed. If you find yourself arrested after going through a checkpoint, the entire checkpoint procedure must be carefully investigated. These types of cases require significant legal expertise as they provide additional "issues" over and above the normal DUI arrest which must be litigated.
The Law Offices of Jarrod Wilfert has three former police officers and a former Ventura County DUI Prosecutor who know exactly what to look for in these cases and ready to assist you with your defense. Take advantage of our experience and let us help you through this stressful time by calling for a FREE consultation at (805) 994-0560.