Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Know Your Rights! Can You Legally Avoid Driving Through A DUI Checkpoint?

JUST A LITTLE SOUTH OF FAIRFAX AND SANTA MONICA - It is a Saturday night and for drivers motoring south along Fairfax Avenue (some perhaps to hear their friend's band at Canter's Kibitz Room) they find themselves in a traffic jam. With the emergency lights up ahead it looks like an accident. As the motorist inches closer and maybe hoping to see, but not admit it out-loud, a mangled vehicle the driver sees something different, law enforcement all over the street with bright lights that look like they belong on a sound stage in Burbank or Culver City. It is not an accident, but a D.U.I. checkpoint.

 photo DUI-Checkpoint-1024x576.jpg
Stock photograph of a sign informing and warning motorists of a D.U.I. checkpoint up ahead. Used under a Creative Commons license.

In recent years D.U.I. checkpoints have become controversial since some law enforcement departments use them to catch those driving without a license, and those driving without driver's licenses often tend to be immigrants. D.U.I. checkpoints have also been used to stop people, and question and search them, and their vehicle, for things that have nothing to do with drunk driving.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that police must have a reason to pull you over, and that reason is not always a concrete, "black and white" decision. The Court has given law enforcement a rather large "gray area" when it comes to deciding whether or not to pull a motorist over. D.U.I. checkpoint critics say such checkpoints are simply a way to bypass the Supreme Court's ruling to search somebody without any reason.

D.U.I. checkpoints being used for more than catching drunk and drugged up drivers is a whole other issue, but here, in this new feature called, Know Your Rights, we are going to focus on what your rights are when it comes to wanting to avoid going through D.U.I. checkpoints.

Can You Avoid Going Through D.U.I. Checkpoints?

There is a lot of contention when it comes to D.U.I. checkpoints, but a question a lot of people wonder, "If I see a D.U.I. checkpoint can I turnaround and avoid going throw it?"

The short answer is, yes.

Now before we go forward in explaining this let us make a couple things clear.

Do NOT EVER Drink And Drive, Or Do Drugs And Drive

Drinking and driving is not cool. Way too many innocent people have been injured or killed due to drunk driving. If you know you are going to go out someplace where drinking will be involved make some plans on how you are going to get back home. This may involve taking public transportation, taking a taxi or using a ride sharing service. Or, you may just need to sleep it off in your car. You have a lot of options available to you when you need to sober up. Bottom line, do not ever drink and drive.

Second point, and this is our legal disclaimer, the information about avoiding D.U.I. checkpoints is for general information purposes only and should not be taken as any kind of formal legal advice for any individual case or situation.

So, Can I Turnaround At A DUI Checkpoint?

Yes, if you see a D.U.I. checkpoint up ahead you can turnaround and avoid going through it, if it is safe and legal to turnaround.

What causes a lot of people to be pulled over after turning around from a D.U.I. checkpoint is doing things like performing illegal U-Turns crossing over the double yellow lines. Now if there is a side street open and you safely and legally turn down the side street there should be no reason for you to be pulled over. If you make a legal U-Turn you should be okay. Why? Law enforcement rules prohibit officers from pulling you over for simply legally avoiding a D.U.I. checkpoint.

Keep in mind that if you have something like a taillight out that is cause for pulling you over.

What it comes down to is this, if you can safely and legally turnaround to avoid a D.U.I. checkpoint, and there is nothing wrong with your car, you can avoid going through a D.U.I. checkpoint.

What If There Is A Police Car Sitting On The Side Street?

At the risk of sounding like we are picking on law enforcement, and we are not, if you can safely and legally make a U-Turn or turn onto a side-street sometimes a police car will be parked in the place where you can legally turnaround and get out of going through the D.U.I. checkpoint. These police cars are there to deter, and frankly, intimidate, anybody thinking of avoiding going through the checkpoints. As long as you are not breaking any traffic laws, or other laws, there should be no reason to prevent a motorist from legally avoiding a D.U.I. checkpoint, and thus no reason for the police to pull you over.

Do D.U.I. Checkpoints Violate The Fourth Amendment?

Many people, understandably, think D.U.I. checkpoints are unreasonable search and seizure. However, the California Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court have held that D.U.I. checkpoints are valid and do not violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

In fact, The California Supreme Court in Ingersoll v. Palmer said,

The sobriety checkpoint presents a compelling parallel to the airport screening search. While the label "administrative search" is open to some criticism in application to either the airport search or the sobriety checkpoint stop, both, although they operate mechanically as a search or inspection for the violation of law, actually serve a primary and overriding regulatory purpose of promoting public safety. Their primary purpose is to prevent and deter conduct injurious to persons and property; they are not conventional criminal searches and seizures.

So, no. As it stands now D.U.I. checkpoints do not violate the Fourth Amendment and it is the same as going through airport security.

The Bottom Line Is This...

You can avoid D.U.I. checkpoints as long as you are not breaking any traffic laws and/or have a reason for police to pull you over. Simply legally and lawfully avoiding a D.U.I. checkpoint is typically not reason enough for police to pull you over.

Editor's Note: Know Your Rights is a new feature that will be exploring and explaining all about your rights.


  1. Thanks for sharing so detailed information about the rights. Well I never mix drink and drive now. Once I got charged with Drink and driving, then I had to hire a best DUI lawyer, and luckily with his help I just paid fine. Now I have learnt a lesson and I don’t mix these two things now.

  2. As I mentioned above, drinking and driving is never cool, and sometimes in life we learn lessons the hard way. Personal, there are a lot of people I know who do not drink at all, but want to avoid going through DUI checkpoints on principle.

  3. Thank you for letting me share on your blog. I drove around and avoided a DUI checkpoint because I was driving to a hospital, yet the police still gave me a hard time and made me go through pointless tests despite me telling them we had an emergency on our hands. Definitely helps if you know your rights concerning DUI checkpoints.

    Faith Brady @ KHunterLaw

  4. There’s a ton of information here I was not aware of. I thought if you did turn around you’re subject to a fine. I was driving home sober and saw one and turned around because I get home and didn't want to deal with the delay. I was terrified for weeks after getting a summon in the mail.

    Eliseo Weinstein @ JR's Bail Bonds