DUI and Traffic Checkpoints

Traffic CheckpointsThe police, sheriff, and highway patrol will often have traffic checkpoints set up on Friday and Saturday nights and on weekends from late in the evening until the early hours of the morning. There are generally two purposes for these checkpoints: checking to be sure drivers have valid licenses and checking for signs of intoxication.

Law enforcement agencies will typically send out press releases on the day of the checkpoints, or perhaps a day or two in advance. These notices can usually be found on the agencies’ websites and show the dates, times, and locations of the checkpoints.

If you have been arrested or are facing the possibility of criminal charges because of an encounter with law enforcement at a traffic checkpoint, contact me to discuss your case. As an experienced DUI lawyer, I have successfully represented clients in Sacramento, Yolo, Placer, and El Dorado counties facing DUI charges from these types of circumstances.

Questions at a Checkpoint
When you come upon a traffic checkpoint, you and the other vehicles on the road will be routed into a line of traffic that will move past a police, sheriff, or CHP officer. When you pull up to the officer, you will have to roll down your window and show your driver license. If you have a license and do not display any evidence of intoxication or impairment from drugs, you will be allowed to drive on. However, if the officer sees any signs of intoxication or impairment or if you are not able to present your driver license, then you will be required to move your vehicle to the side of the road and submit to further questioning.

Investigation
Officers at each traffic checkpoint might handle matters differently, but there are some common elements. If you've been told to pull over to the side of the road, you will most likely be asked if you have had anything to drink. At this point of the investigation, it is not likely that you will be told of your Miranda right to remain silent because officers do not have to give you the Miranda warning unless you will be subject to "in custody" interrogation. Therefore, it is critical to understand that whatever you say in response to the officer's questions can be used as evidence against you later in the criminal process.

Field Sobriety Tests and Breath Sample
If the officer suspects you of being intoxicated, he will have you do field sobriety tests, or FSTs, which provide clues to whether you are unable to do multiple tasks at the same time, an indication of impairment. After the FSTs, the officer might ask for a preliminary breath sample to test your blood alcohol level. You are not required to give this preliminary breath sample, but failure to do so could result in loss of your driver license for a year.

Arrest and Jail
If the officer finds sufficient evidence to place you under arrest, you will be taken to the county jail. You will be given the choice of a blood or breath test (even if you gave a preliminary breath sample at the scene). You cannot be forced to give a blood sample, but refusal to give one of these samples may result in loss of your driver license for a year.

After the Arrest
The local sheriff will hold you in county jail until your blood alcohol level goes down. Depending on the county in which you were arrested and the circumstances of the arrest, you will most likely be released and told to appear in court at a specific time and date. Bail may be required if there are more serious factors like DUI with injury or previous DUI arrests.

Vehicle Impoundment
One of the consequences of these checkpoints has been the impoundment of a significant number of vehicles. In recent years, however, many more vehicles were impounded because drivers were unlicensed compared to impoundments for intoxication. These impoundments became a substantial source of revenue for some cash strapped local governments that charged a fee to release impounded vehicles and in some instances even got a portion of the towing fee.

Because of this, a new law went into effect in January 2012 prohibiting police from impounding a vehicle if the driver's sole violation is driving without a license. Under the new rules, the vehicle is pulled off to the roadside near the checkpoint and the driver is allowed to return with a licensed driver who will move the car. Thus, police may only impound the vehicles of people who are arrested for DUI or whose licenses have previously been revoked or suspended.