Normally, an officer needs reasonable suspicion that a driver is committing some crime, including a traffic violation, in order to legally pull the driver over. Typically, in DUI cases, law enforcement will notice a broken tail light, expired registration, speeding or some other minor traffic violation before detaining a driver. After the initial detention, the officer will then notice objective signs of intoxication and a full DUI investigation will ensue. However, with DUI checkpoints, which are a common occurrence in Pasadena and other cities in Los Angeles County, law enforcement does not need reasonable suspicion to stop a driver. DUI checkpoints are completely legal despite the officer having no reasonable suspicion or probable cause to pull anyone over. The California courts have upheld this exception as “in the public’s interest” in order to deter driving under the influence and to remove DUI violators from the streets.
Judges have decided that DUI checkpoints do not violate the public’s rights and are therefore legal. This decision was upheld in the 1987 landmark California Supreme Court case Ingersoll v. Palmer. This case set up guidelines which law enforcement must follow while conducting a sobriety checkpoint. If these guidelines are disobeyed and not properly followed, the DUI checkpoint could be deemed unconstitutional. The guidelines that must law enforcement must follow when conducting DUI checkpoints in Pasadena and other Los Angeles areas include the following:
- A supervising law enforcement official must be the one to oversee the checkpoint and make the decisions on how the checkpoint is set up and run,
- The decision as to which vehicles to stop must be neutral. In other words, an officer in the field can’t decide which vehicles he will stop. There must be a predetermined decision that, for example, every fifth car, or every other car, will be stopped. Stopping every car is also permissible.
- The checkpoint must be located in a reasonable place and clearly identified as a checkpoint,
- The average duration of the detention must be reasonable
- And law enforcement must notify the public in advance of the DUI checkpoint. This notification can be a post on the web or in a local paper.
Pasadena DUI checkpoints are a common occurrence in Pasadena, California; especially on weekend evenings in the Old Town Pasadena area. Officers typically set up checkpoints in the major Los Angeles cities between the hours of 8 P.M., and 3 A.M. Thursday night through Sunday nights. DUI checkpoints can often be encountered in the areas including Pasadena, downtown Los Angeles, Alhambra, West Covina, El Monte, East Los Angeles, Altadena, Azusa, Pomona, Glendale, Burbank, San Fernando and Van Nuys.
What does Law Enforcement Look for While Conducting Sobriety Checkpoints in Los Angeles and Pasadena?
During a standard DUI checkpoint a driver can expect to be asked for their driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. After verifying the driver's documents, the officer will then ask if the driver had consumed any alcoholic beverages recently. Most motorists feel compelled to answer, often admitting he or she had a couple drinks or a glass of wine. This is an admission that can later be used against the driver if he or she is charged with driving under the influence, in violation of California Vehicle Code section 23152(a) and/or (b). During the officer's questioning of the driver, he or she will look for signs of possible intoxication. Law enforcement refers to these as "objective symptoms of intoxication". These objective signs include the odor of an alcoholic beverage emanating from the breath or body, red or bloodshot and watery eyes, slurred speech, nervousness and confusion. Most people late at night after a full day will show at least one of these signs, regardless of whether or not that person consumed an illegal amount of alcohol. Nevertheless, if the officer detects any of these things then you will likely be asked to perform a serious of tests called Field Sobriety Tests ("FSTs").
Field Sobriety Tests at a DUI Checkpoint
Just as in a standard DUI Investigation, law enforcement will ask the driver to perform a series of tests to assist the officer in determining whether or not the driver is under the influence. Walking the line, Rhomberg (estimating 30 seconds in your head), and the Finger to Nose test are the typical FSTs requested to be performed. The last FST an officer requests the driver to perform is usually a preliminary alcohol screen (PAS). This is optional and the officer is legally obliged to tell the driver that this test is not mandatory. (Many officers do not tell drivers that the PAS test is optional, and the failure to so advise could lead to a viable argument in court that the results of the PAS tests should be suppressed.) However, in DUI checkpoints, oftentimes the officer has a chemical breath test machine available for use in a large trailer next to the checkpoint so the preliminary alcohol screening test is not conducted. The driver must be given the option to take a breath or a blood test. After the FSTs are performed, the officer will decide if he or she believes you are driving under the influence. If the officer feels that you are under the influence, then you will be arrested and required to provide a breath or blood sample pursuant to the California Implied Consent Law.
Is it Legal to Intentionally Avoid a DUI Checkpoint?
You may be surprised to know that the answer is YES. Officers are not legally permitted to prevent a driver from turning off of DUI checkpoint route so long as they do not commit any traffic violations while doing so. In other words, if you are waiting in a line of traffic that is being cordoned off towards a line of vehicles that goes into a DUI checkpoint, and you can legally make a right hand turn onto another street and drive away from the checkpoint without committing any traffic violations, a police officer can not legally pull you over. Unfortunately, some officers break the law (and violate the Constitution!) by looking for motorists attempting to avoid the checkpoint, and then pull them over without reasonable suspicion. If this happens to you, your Pasadena DUI defense lawyer can bring forth a motion to suppress the evidence, under Penal Code section 1538.5, and argue that the officer violated your Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal searches and seizures.
Los Angeles DUI AttorneyVincent Ross, who has cross examined police and CHP officers regarding the proper administration of a DUI checkpoint, it is completely legal to intentionally avoid a checkpoint. The trick is to avoid it without committing any traffic violations. For example, if you are driving down a street and notice cones and officer a couple blocks ahead stopping motorists, and you suspect it is a DUI checkpoint, you can decide to make a right hand turn onto an upcoming street to avoid the checkpoint up ahead. However, if you make an illegal U-turn in an attempt to avoid the checkpoint, an officer can legally pull you over for that traffic violation. Basically, your subjective reasons for not continuing to drive into a checkpoint is not legally relevant. An officer can not legally stop a driver whom the officer believes is making a legal turn onto an adjacent street for the purpose of avoiding the checkpoint. The driver must commit a traffic violation or a crime in order for the officer's detention to be legal.
In addition to the DUI Court case, there is also a DMV hearing that will determine if the driver's license will be suspended, separate and apart from any suspension triggered by a DUI conviction in Court.
Defenses To DUI Checkpoint Charges
The same DUI defenses that apply in standard DUI cases also apply here. Rising BAC, problems with the accuracy, calibration records of the breath testing machine, issues with the blood sample or procedure for obtaining the blood, officer errors or violations of the driver's constitutional rights, and medical issues such as Gerd and Acid Reflux that could impact the accuracy of a breath test, should all be thoroughly investigated by a good DUI attorney. In a checkpoint case the defense lawyer must carefully review, and appropriately challenge the "Ingersoll" factors to see if the checkpoint passes constitutional muster. If the checkpoint factors (guidelines) were not sufficiently followed, the a motion to suppress the evidence could be granted due to law enforcement not conducting a lawful checkpoint. The courts have warned that a DUI checkpoint is an exception to the rule requiring reasonable suspicion to stop and detain a citizen, and therefore, certain guidelines must be followed to ensure a proper balance between law enforcement's desire to keep the streets free from intoxicated drivers and a citizen's right to be free from unconstitutional seizures.
At the Law Office of Ann Gottesman, located near the Pasadena Superior Court, attorney Ann Gottesman vigorously defends her clients who are charged with Driving Under the Influence after being detained and arrested at a DUI/DWI Checkpoint. To avoid the consequences of a DUI driver license suspension and conviction, it is crucial that you have an experienced and caring DUI Defense Attorney fighting on your behalf in court and at the DMV.
Ann Gottesman has experience and passion in defending people accused of DWI/DUI in Pasadena and surrounding Los Angeles cities. She has successfully represented DUI clients in Pasadena, Los Angeles, Alhambra, West Covina, El Monte, and East Los Angeles Courts. Unlike many large criminal defense firms, Ann personally handles each case, and when preparing a defense in a DUI or criminal matter, she leaves no stone unturned. Being charged with a crime is a frightening experience and a conviction can have life-long consequences. If you or a loved one are facing DUI or criminal charges, please call Ann for a free consultation anytime, seven days a week by calling (626) 710-4021.