DUI checkpoints are a common tool, but far from the best, in the identification and arrest of drunk drivers in Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside, San Diego and throughout California. Although its accuracy and efficiency is questionable, law enforcement agencies modeled this approach on the success of roadside safety checks and license/registration inspections. In this process the police agency will set up a sobriety checkpoint on a highway and if the selected driver exhibits any symptoms of DUI, he will be asked to leave the car and perform field sobriety tests at the scene.
In 1990, the United States Supreme Court reversed a state supreme court decision that declared DUI sobriety checkpoints unconstitutional. Although not addressing issues of accuracy of the procedure or whether it was the best approach to DUI detection, the Court held in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S, 444 (1990) that the DUI checkpoint in question did not violate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Court's 6-3 decision authored by Chief Justice Rehnquest was not an unexpected result. The ruling recognized that DUI checkpoints do constitute a "seizure" within the bounds of the Fourth Amendment, but the Chief Justice reasoned that the intrusion of sobriety checkpoints on individual liberties must be weighed against the best interests of government in the ability of DUI roadblocks to identify with some accuracy drunk drivers. In the end, and even though DUI checkpoints may not be the best or most accurate law enforcement method, the Court held that the interests of government in identifying DUI drivers and reducing alcohol-related fatalities outweighed the intrusion on human privacy rights, and sobriety checkpoint were deemed constitutionally acceptable.
Confronted with a case involving a DUI checkpoint, DUI lawyers must consider the accuracy and adequacy of the procedures employed: Was the sobriety checkpoint conducted in the best and most constitutionally permissible manner? Even Chief Justice Rehnquist implicitly acknowledged that there must exist "guidelines" concerning such matters as location, publicity, and roadblock operation. Note that in Sitz the DUI roadblock was set up only after a "Sobriety Checkpoint Advisory Committee" had been appointed to establish the best guidelines; this committee consisted of representatives of the state police, local police, prosecutors, and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
But what are the "guidelines" for a DUI checkpoint? Rehnquist's opinion in Sitz leaves the question of minimal adequacy of such standards for a sobriety checkpoint unanswered, presumably to be determined on a case-by-case basis. When confronted with a DUI checkpoint issue, defense counsel may find his best guidance in the decisions of sister states. In one of the most influential of these post-Sitz DUI roadblock cases, the California Supreme Court set forth what it felt to be the best procedural safe-guards required for a DUI sobriety checkpoint to comply with the Constitution. Ingersoll v. Palmer, 743 P.2d 1299 (Cal. 1987).
HOW TO FIND SOBRIETY CHECKPOINT LOCATIONS
For the best information with the greatest accuracy on where DUI checkpoints are being scheduled near you, review the following resources:
California DUI Checkpoints: Recent Alerts
A general but abbreviated listing of sobriety checkpoints planned for locations throughout the State of California. Note: for more detailed listings, refer to the Recent Alerts for the specific counties listed below.
Current California DUI Checkpoint Locations
A very partial list of alerts on Facebook for some sobriety checkpoints scheduled in California primarily in Central and Southern California.
Los Angeles DUI Checkpoints: Recent Alerts
A current and much more comprehensive list of roadblocks scheduled in Los Angeles County. The site, duiblock.com, also offers monthly subscriptions for DUI checkpoint alerts.
Orange County DUI Checkpoints: Recent Alerts
Another extensive list of planned sobriety checkpoints, this one for Orange County, California.
Riverside DUI Checkpoints: Recent Alerts
A similar listing of future and recent sobriety checkpoints for Riverside County from duiblock.com.
San Bernardino DUI Checkpoints: Recent Alerts
Current list of DUI sobriety checkpoints planned for San Bernardino County.
San Diego DUI Checkpoints: Recent Alerts
Another set of fairly complete schedules with considerable accuracy from duiblock.com for sobriety checkpoints, these planned for San Diego County.
Latest DUI Checkpoint Locations
This Twitter site provides Tweets scheduled sobriety checkpoint locations, with an emphasis on California, Ohio and Florida.
Latest Orange County DUI Checkpoints
A similar Twitter site but focusing on Orange County sobriety checkpoints.
LEGALITY AND EFFECTIVENESS OF DUI CHECKPOINTS
What is the Purpose of DUI Checkpoints?
Are DUI sobriety checkpoints the best or even most effective method for detecting and arresting drunk drivers or are they used primarily as a deterrence and to raise revenue? See also, Police Department Explains Real Purpose of DUI Roadblocks.
Sobriety Checkpoint Issues
A brief discussion of legal requirements imposed upon law enforcement in setting up and administering DUI roadblocks in California.
An extensive coverage on Wikipedia of the factual and legal issues concerning drunk driving roadblocks: overview, legality, accuracy and effectiveness.
US Supreme Court Decision on Sobriety Checkpoints
Summary of the landmark case of Michigan vs, Sitz, upholding the legality of DUI checkpoints, from the largest and best DUI information website on the internet, DUICenter.com.
National Sobriety Checkpoint Laws
A summary chart from the Governors Highway Safety Association of the sobriety checkpoint laws of 38 states: use of DUI checkpoints, frequency and legality.
The simple fact is that DUI checkpoints are not the best tool for the detection of drunk driving, and are largely wastes of police resources and taxpayer money not to mention unjustified invasions of privacy. In fact, in the United States Supreme Court decision upholding their constitutionality, a dissenting justice pointed out the the findings of the trial court, based on an extensive record and affirmed by the Michigan Court of Appeals, indicate that the net effect of sobriety checkpoints on traffic safety is infinitesimal and possibly negative.
This is confirmed by the federal governments National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies, which conclude that the number of DWI arrests made by the roving patrol program was nearly three times the average number of DWI arrests made by the DWI checkpoint programs.