MAY I MAKE A U-TURN TO AVOID A SOBRIETY CHECKPOINT?

Although DUI sobriety checkpoints have been upheld under the United States and California constitutions, as a carved limited public safety exception to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which makes it unlawful for the police to conduct investigations and traffic stops absent probable cause.  Drivers still have protected rights under the United States and California constitutions.  Nevertheless, this exception does not bestow unfettered discretion onto the officer, and the driver’s rights must still be respected. 

 

In this weeks Newsletter, we examine an individual’s right to avoid a checkpoint when driving just short of the designated Checkpoint stop. 

 

Our Scenario:  Suppose someone, who we will call “Barbi,” has just left a trendy local bar after having a couple of well-drinks, while out celebrating with work friends.  While on her drive home she notices cars slowing, lights, red traffic cones, police officers and a DUI Checkpoint sign detouring vehicle through a coned-maze less than half a block ahead of her vehicle.

 

Although she does not believe her driving to be impaired by the alcohol she has recently consumed; she would rather not have to go through a full-on questioning and explanation session with the officer, and worse yet, have to perform sobriety field tests while wearing heels.  Barbi’s heart begins to pound inside her chest, her hands begin to perspire, then she quickly puts a stick of gum into her mouth to mask any possible smell of alcohol.  Suddenly, she realizes that she just might attempt to avoid the checkpoint altogether, and simply perform a U-turn and go in the opposite direction.  May she simply avoid the checkpoint in this manner?

 

THE TYPICAL CALIFORNIA DUI CHECKPOINT

The typical California DUI Checkpoint stop consists of a police agency setting up signs, lights, cones and roadblocks while guiding drivers’ vehicles slowly through the narrow cone-marked pathway set up, in order for officers to observe drivers for signs of intoxication or “reasonable suspicion” that a driver is driving under the influence (DUI).  If an officer’s “reasonable” suspicion is triggered, then that driver is asked to pull-over to another nearby allotted area for additional investigation.  Generally, that encounter will last less than a minute, during which the officer may ask to see the driver’s license and registration. At this point, the officer might ask if he or she has had anything to drink.   It is this encounter that our hypothetical character, Barbi, is attempting to avoid. She knows that once pulled over, she stands a pretty good chance of being asked to submit to the famous Field Sobriety Tests, or “FSTs”, and even a chance of being arrested.

 

So, may driver’s simply turn around to avoid the checkpoint encounter?  Yes, if legal and safe to do so.

There currently aren’t any laws which would prevent a driver from turning around to avoid a DUI checkpoint. However, the turn must be made in a safe manner, and in an area where it would otherwise be considered legal to perform a U-turn.  As such, while the law does not allow a police officers to pull over a driver simply based upon the fact the turn occurred immediately prior to the designated checkpoint;  an officer would be in the right to pull over a driver committing a traffic infraction, such as making an illegal U-turn, failing to use a turn signal, making an unsafe turn, and yes, demonstrating signs of intoxication, such as weaving.

 

If you have any questions about this or any other criminal accusation, call Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Will Trivino-Perez at: (310) 443-4251 or visit our homepage www.tpalawyers.com for a direct link to chat with us.

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