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Was I stopped at an illegal DUI Checkpoint?

Posted by Steven McNicholl | Jun 25, 2019 | 0 Comments

As you come around the corner and see the line of cars and flashing blue and red lights can be startling when you just came nice dinner with the family where you knocked back a few drinks over the course of an hour or two. You know anyone will be able to smell the alcohol on your breath, and no, mints will not help. Even if you are perfectly certain that you are not driving under the influence, will the officer at the checkpoint realize this or will he have me pull over for a longer in depth screening? What if my nervousness or other medical condition cause the officer to incorrectly believe I am under the influence?

Most of us experience sobriety checkpoints and these thoughts at one point or another. Even the knowledge that you are perfectly does not alleviate this anxiety as you approach a checkpoint. Maybe you are not worried about being arrested for a DUI but worry the officer will see something in your car you are not aware of and arrest or you have a broken tail light you will be ticketed for.  Read more about DUI charges here.

Most people are surprised when they here not all DUI or sobriety checkpoints are legal. The landmark Ingersoll v. Palmor (1987), established requirements that must be met in order for the DUI checkpoint to be found legal under the California and United States Constitution. The court applied a balancing test where issues related to the intrusiveness of the DUI checkpoint were weight against the government purpose of the checkpoint. The following eight factors come from the concurring opinion written by Justice Kaufman, J., with Lucas, C. J., Arguelles and Eagleson, JJ.

1. Decisionmaking at the Supervisory Level

DUI checkpoints must be established and decision made by an established supervisor. Motorists should not be subject to arbitrary and capricious enforcement of an officer who is acting without purpose.

2. Limits on Discretion of Field Officers

A neutral formula must be established and employed by the officers such as every other vehicle. Stopping vehicles based on age, race, ethnicity, or type of vehicle is unacceptable.

3. Maintenance of Safety Conditions

The officers primary consideration should be safety, the checkpoint must be well lit and maintained for motorists. If the traffic volume of a checkpoint begins to back up, officers must decrease the amount of vehicles stopped in order to prevent safety issues as a result of traffic backing up.

4. Reasonable Location

The location must be reasonable and should be chosen by policy makers and not officers in the field. The checkpoint should serve government purpose such as deterring drinking and driving. It is not meant a tool for law enforcement to use in order to make arrests.

5. Time and Duration

​Officers are "expected to exercise good judgment in setting time and duration, with an eye to effectiveness of the operation, and with the safety of motorists a coordinate consideration." There is no hard line rule on what will be considered good judgment and will fall to individual judges to make ruling with each case.

6. Indicia of Official Nature of Roadblock

The checkpoint should be made easily visible with signs, flashing lights, police vehicles, officers in uniform, etc.

​7. Length and Nature of Detention ​

The average time a motorist is detained at the checkpoint should be kept to a minimum.

8. Length and Nature of Detention

The checkpoint should receive advance publicity as this is key to a "constitutionally permissible sobriety checkpoint." This can include publication in local newspaper, advertisements, law enforcement websites, and local news stations. This is to minimize the intrusiveness of the checkpoint while increasing its deterrent affect.

The officers can perform each requirement to varying degrees, it is not an all or nothing requirement. Since it is a balancing test, the court will have to determine if your individual case has satisfied the requirements of the California and United States Constitution. If you recognize a sobriety checkpoint does not appear to meet the requirements, what can you do? Unfortunately, at that point in time not much. You must stop if required and obey the officer directing you.  It is likely you will be asked to perform a Field Sobriety Test (FST) and a chemical test.  Read more about more about FSTs here

​An issue of an illegal search and seizure must be fought in court. If a checkpoint is illegal, it is likely any evidence gathered after initial with law enforcement will be inadmissible in court.  

Have you run into this situation? Call the Law Offices of Steven McNicholl at (951) 405-0990 for free consultation to determine if you experienced an illegal checkpoint.

About the Author

Steven McNicholl

Steven McNicholl is a criminal defense attorney serving clients in Southern California.  He has the experience necessary to bring intensity and focus to every case ensuring you receive the dedication and vigorous defense you require in your case.


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