California is rich in ethnic diversity; however, police officers are frequently accused of racial discrimination when carrying out their public safety duties. Extensive evidence of such accusations underscores the disparities that are involved in racially motivated traffic stops. One of the most common situations for racial profiling claims in DUI comes from DUI checkpoints.
Because the profiling of minority populations by law enforcement has been an issue for years, Black and Latinx drivers especially need to be aware of their legal rights at DUI checkpoints.
What Exactly Are DUI Checkpoints?
DUI or sobriety checkpoints are stops proctored by police officers on a roadway usually during a time when impaired driving is suspected to happen. This often occurs during the weekend or holiday periods. Officers randomly stop vehicles and evaluate drivers for signs of alcohol or drug impairment.
While police officers are not allowed to stop a vehicle without probable cause, random DUI checkpoints are considered legal and valid under the U.S. law. However, the checkpoint itself must meet certain requirements in order for the stop to be deemed legal.
Your Legal Rights at A DUI Checkpoint
DUI checkpoints must satisfy the following legal conditions:
- Drivers should be able to see that they are approaching a checkpoint, usually marked by warning signs and other methods.
- The checkpoint must be located in an area where DUI-related accidents or arrests are highly prevalent.
- Supervising officers must establish a random pattern or method to implement when stopping vehicles ahead of time. This is done to avoid racial bias.
- Officers must be in uniform and can only question drivers for a reasonable amount of time if no signs of impairment are shown.
- DUI checkpoints should be publicized in the media, so drivers can find out about them in advance.
If the checkpoint does not follow these guidelines, DUI charges are deemed illegal and must be dropped.
What To Do If You Are Stopped
Drivers can legally evade stopping at a checkpoint by making a U-turn as long as the driver does not break any traffic laws to do so.
If you choose not to evade a checkpoint, remain calm and cooperative. The officer will ask you to roll down the window. Drivers then must provide documentation for assessment such as a driver’s license, car registration, or proof of insurance. Drivers are not obligated to give more information than needed. Once you have identified yourself and shown necessary documentation, you do not need to give any further details.
Avoid consenting to a vehicle search. Officers either need your consent, a warrant, or probable cause to do so. It is well within your rights to decline their request if they lack any of the aforementioned.
Lastly, you do have the right to deny a field sobriety test (cheek swab) even if an officer is pressuring you into taking one. However, you must submit to taking a chemical test if you have been lawfully arrested at the checkpoint. Refusal can result in the suspension of your license.
There is the potential for routine interactions between police officers and drivers who are minorities to spiral out of control; it has happened far too often. Sadly, these incidents can even lead to tragedy. Until the police adopt specific practices to improve public trust and cooperation, it is important for minority groups to understand what their constitutional rights are.