If you traveled in California on the Fourth of July, you very likely passed through a DUI checkpoint. They’ll be back out on Labor Day, and you’ll see more when the holiday season begins. What many Californians may not know is that drivers are legally allowed to turn away from a checkpoint. But if you’re stopped and charged with DWI at a DWI checkpoint or anywhere else in southern California, get legal help immediately and call an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney.

Courts have ruled that checkpoints are legal despite the normal constitutional requirement that police must have “probable cause” to stop drivers. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the intrusion on privacy rights is outweighed by the need to keep the streets safe. In Ingersoll v. Palmer, California’s Supreme Court decided that DWI checkpoints are “administrative procedures” comparable to agricultural checkpoints and airport screenings. However, California’s Supreme Court also specified the legal conditions a checkpoint must satisfy:

  • A decision to establish a checkpoint must be made at a police agency’s supervisory level.
  • Vehicles must be stopped on a neutral basis (such as “every third car” rather than cars that “look suspicious”).
  • The checkpoint must be set up at a safe location with adequate lighting and signage.
  • The location must be “reasonable” and in a spot likely to yield DWI arrests.
  • Drivers should be minimally inconvenienced and moved through as quickly as possible.
  • A checkpoint must be visible to approaching motorists.

California’s Supreme Court also ruled that drivers who want to avoid a DWI checkpoint may legally do so. Avoiding a checkpoint does not give the police probable cause to stop you. However, you may not make an illegal U-turn (or any other illegal maneuver). You may choose to make a quick turn and go around a DWI checkpoint, but you should know the police will probably be watching you and looking for a probable cause to stop you.

If you are charged with DUI – at a DWI checkpoint or anywhere else in southern California –obtain the services of a good DUI defense lawyer at once. DUI is prosecuted aggressively in California, and the consequences of a conviction can be drastic. If you face the charge now or in the future, talk to an experienced Orange County DWI defense attorney immediately.