A few weeks ago, in a blog I posted on the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints, I mentioned that, in California, in order for a random sobriety checkpoint to be valid, checkpoints must be publically advertised, reasonably located, and must allow approaching drivers to navigate away from the checkpoint.
The last requirement is the most interesting and prompts the most questions.
If a driver is legally allowed to navigate away from a checkpoint, how does law enforcement get away with pulling someone over after they attempt to navigate away from the checkpoint? Usually, officers observe the commission of a traffic violation in the driver’s attempt to avoid the checkpoint. More often than not, these violations include illegal U-turns and illegal lane changes. Although officers should not be allowed to have an ulterior motive for the stop other than that of a simple traffic violation, they often do. Once pulled over, it becomes very easy for an officer to notice the telltale signs of a drunk driver: bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and the smell of alcohol on the breath.
If law enforcement agencies must allow approaching drivers to leave a checkpoint, but are allowed to pull someone over for doing so if they violate a traffic law in the process, the question becomes whether law enforcement agencies must provide a place to legally exit or turn around before reaching the checkpoint. The answer is simply “no.” Thus, law enforcement agencies can circumvent the last requirement of valid checkpoints by placing the checkpoint in a location where it is impossible to turn around without violating a traffic law.
The next time you see a sign that says, “Sobriety Checkpoint Ahead” be aware of places where you can legally turn around, that is, if any are available.