Your Rights at a DUI Checkpoint

If you are driving on a road in California and you see a DUI checkpoint up ahead, it’s important to be aware of your rights. Not knowing your rights can cause you trouble. It can lead to an arrest for DUI or another crime or another citation on your license, and you will face inconvenience, expense, and potential disgrace even if you are eventually acquitted.

Be aware of your rights and assert them in a firm but polite manner to protect yourself from unnecessary problems.

The Right Not to Speak

Your most important right in any encounter with the police is your right not to speak, and that includes at DUI checkpoints. You can hand the officer your license and remain silent, or say, “I don’t wish to answer any questions. Am I free to go?” Another option is to hand the officer a printed card with that statement on it, which would then limit an officer’s ability to smell alcohol on your breath.

The Right to Refuse a Breathalyzer Test

Most states have implied consent laws for Breathalyzer tests. By holding a driver’s license, you give consent to a Breathalyzer test, which the Fourth Amendment might otherwise protect you from. California’s implied consent law is different from many states because it only covers Breathalyzer tests that occur after a legal arrest. If an officer asks you to take a Breathalyzer test before you are arrested you have every right to refuse with no consequences whatsoever, not even an assumption of probable cause for a DUI arrest.

The Right to Refuse Field Sobriety Tests

You never have to submit to field sobriety tests, and you never should, even if you’re sober. Because the tests are somewhat challenging and entirely subjective, sober people “fail” these tests all the time, and it gives officers probable cause for an arrest, which, even if you’re shown to be sober, is an inconvenience and can be expensive.

The Right to a Reasonable Checkpoint

The California Supreme Court has set up some strict rules about how DUI checkpoints should be handled. If the checkpoint isn’t handled properly, it may be enough to throw out DUI charges.

Some of the details you should pay attention to are:

  • Count the cars that are let pass and those that are stopped. Is there a pattern or does it seem to be random?
  • Where, exactly, is the checkpoint located?
  • What safety precautions are being taken?
  • Were there signs that this was an official DUI checkpoint? Marked police cars? A number of visible officers in uniform?
  • Did the police seem to be taking an excessive amount of time with each car (including yours), maybe fishing for an excuse to arrest?

There’s no guarantee that these details will help your case, but if you’re sitting around waiting to go through the checkpoint—or if you’ve been arrested and are waiting on the scene--try to observe as many of these details as possible.

Now That You Know Your Rights

Stand up for your rights in every encounter with the police. Be polite, but firm, and you will save yourself from a lot of trouble, and maybe a DUI.

Ronald Dinan & Associates are DUI defense attorneys in Northern California Sonoma, Napa, and Marin Counties.