Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in San Diego?

The number of drivers who get behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol tends to increase drastically around the holidays. Since the winter sees an extended holiday season, stretching from Thanksgiving to beyond the New Year, drunk driving accidents tend to peak around this time. In an effort to combat drunk driving, San Diego police have staged multiple DUI checkpoints across the city. Over the weekend, one downtown checkpoint allowed police to arrest seven people on the suspicion of drunk driving.

About DUI Checkpoints

Aren’t police required to have probable cause that you’ve committed a crime in order to pull you over? Doesn’t the very definition of a DUI checkpoint violate the Fourth Amendment? Drivers who are arrested as DUI checkpoints may want to make this argument, but it will not go very far in court. DUI checkpoints are legal in the state of California. According to the law, all drivers have a legal duty to stop at all posted sobriety checkpoints and comply with sobriety inspections. Specifically, California Vehicle Code 2814.2(a) VC states that: “a driver of a motor vehicle shall stop and submit to a sobriety checkpoint inspection conducted by a law enforcement agency when signs and displays are posted requiring that stop.”

DUI Checkpoint Requirements

Just because DUI checkpoints can be legal, however, does not mean that any pop-up checkpoint on the road is legitimate. DUI checkpoints must be developed, designed, and executed following certain parameters in order to be considered legal stops. Law enforcement agencies who fail to adhere to these parameters may have their stops and arrests invalidated.

In Ingersoll v. Palmer, the Supreme Court of California expressed that a legal DUI checkpoint must:

  1. Use neutral criteria to determine how drivers will be stopped;
  2. Be placed in a reasonable location;
  3. Employ safety measures to protect law enforcement officers and drivers;
  4. Be advertised in public before it is used;
  5. Be a minimal intrusion; and
  6. Operate under the sole direction of a supervising officer.

DUI checkpoints must be operated for a specific purpose and in response to specific information. The law enforcement agency must exercise good judgment in determining when and where a checkpoint will be held.

What Should I Do at a San Diego DUI Checkpoint?

If you are stopped by law enforcement at a San Diego DUI checkpoint it is important to remain calm. Police will be searching for indications that you are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. You will be considered under the influence if you lack the reflexes, skills, and competency to drive a vehicle safely. Your demeanor and behavior during the stop will significantly affect the outcome.  Make sure that you are polite to the officers conducting the inspection. Don’t give police a reason to suspect that you have been drinking. A reasonable person who is stopped at a checkpoint may be irritated, but they will have the sense to be polite and cooperate. Rude or offensive conduct may lead police to believe that you are under the influence.

It is also essential to cooperate with the requests that are made of you during this stop. In most cases, police will simply ask you a few questions about where you are driving from, where you are going, and what you have been doing. While you are not legally obligated to answer, it will generally be in your best interest to provide short answers. They will use the answers to these questions, as well as the way you answered these questions, to help them determine if you are drunk. Blatantly running through the checkpoint or complying with requests to produce identification will likely result in charges for an infraction.

Collateral Consequences of DUI Checkpoints

Sometimes a DUI checkpoint can allow police to pinpoint other illegal conduct. For example, driving on a suspended license or driving without valid registration are both against the law in California. These are things that could be discovered by police during a DUI checkpoint and there is nothing to stop them from issuing a ticket or arrest. It is important to note that a recent change in California law prohibits police from impounding your car at a checkpoint if your only crime is driving without a license. Your car may, however, be impounded if you are arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.

How Can I Learn More About DUI Checkpoints?

DUI checkpoints are only legal if they are advertised in public prior to the date and time they are held. You can search for DUI checkpoints in San Diego by checking out your local police department’s website and social media, reading a local newspaper, or watching the local news. The time and location of DUI checkpoints are also frequently spread from person to person through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. These can be valuable resources for finding out about DUI checkpoints in San Diego.


You can also learn more about DUI checkpoints in San Diego by contacting the San Diego Criminal Law Center. Our experienced team of criminal defense attorneys would be happy to discuss your case with you. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.

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