San Diego DUI Checkpoints - Sobriety Patrols


What may waiver nebulously on illegal search and seizure laws, right to privacy issues, and violation of San Diego drivers' 4th Amendment Rights, has become commonly known as a "DUI Roadblock" or "Sobriety Checkpoint".

California DUI cases that involve drunk driving checkpoint detentions and arrests should be defended with the Court's preeminent determinations on procedural and civil implications of "Saturation Patrols" in mind.

Legality of Sobriety Checkpoints in California

In a widely controversial California Attorney General's ruling in 1984, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and San Diego Police and Sheriff's Officers were mandated to adhere to strict procedural guidelines when executing DUI Checkpoints and Sobriety Roadblocks.

Again in 1987, the California Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision (Ingersoll vs. Palmer), that DUI checkpoints may be lawfully operated by law enforcement when in compliance with Federal and State Constitutions regarding roadblocks.

The Court's stated reasoning for permitting the use of checkpoints in the Ingersoll case was somewhat ambiguous, as the approved use of the roadblocks was allowed for the purpose of deterring drunk driving, rather than increasing the volume of DUI arrests.

Being that the Court's ruling is somewhat equivocal on explaining how drunk driving prevention is an exception to Fourth Amendment violations, an experienced DUI attorney may in some cases exploit these loosely defined guidelines in defense of DUI charges stemming from Sobriety Checkpoints.

DUI Checkpoint Rules for Police in San Diego

If you've been arrested at a DUI Checkpoint, a skilled Drunk Driving Lawyer might attack the legality of your arrest sourced on officer neglect or failure to comply with the following guidelines for ensuring conformance to rules for "legalities" of DUI Roadblocks:

Decisions regarding the execution of Sobriety Checkpoints in San Diego must be determined by law enforcement supervisors, rather than field police officers.

Field police officers are subjected to limited discretionary practices within preset boundaries.

Safety conditions must be maintained and meet pre-specified standards.

Checkpoints must be situated in a reasonable location.

The roadblock must be clearly marked and officially identified as to its purpose.

Precisely established parameters as to the scheduled start and end times, and total duration of the checkpoint.

Duration and essential criteria for detaining drivers.

Media notification of roadblock must be publicly announced in advance.

It is important to note that a dedicated DUI-only attorney skilled in drunk driving defense may successfully combat certain DUI checkpoint cases by contesting overpermissive discretion by field police officers and failure to apply a neutral, nondiscriminatory formula to the selection of detained drivers.

The California Highway Patrol has been frequently executing DUI sobriety checkpoints in San Diego County with the support of the San Diego Police Department's specially trained DUI Task Force and other Law Enforcement agencies, including the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

DUI enforcement in San Diego is a regulatory activity that does not lack funding, by any means. As a matter of fact, the city of San Diego actually receives funding and qualifies for special State, Federal and Special grants by supporting and cooperating with anti-drunk driving activism groups such as MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

DUI Checkpoint Rules for Police in San Diego


Generally speaking, the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. This includes protecting citizens from being stopped without a search warrant or require, at a minimum, that a peace officer have a reasonable suspicion or probable cause to briefly detain a citizen to investigate his suspicion that the individual is involved in some illegal conduct.

However, on June 14, 1990 the United States Supreme Court held in the case Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 that an exception to the fourth Amendment exists, the sobriety checkpoint. The sobriety checkpoint stop is intended to both deter and catch drivers operating their vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. The U.S. Supreme Court did state that certain criteria or safeguards should be followed to render such stops Constitutionally permissible.

In 1987, in the case Ingersoll v. Palmer, 743 P.2d 1299 ( Cal. 1987) the California Supreme Court placed specific guide lines to ensure that the sobriety checkpoints complied with Constitutional theories. The California Supreme Court promulgated eight primary factors to be followed to assess and minimize the intrusiveness of the checkpoint stop. All eight factors need not be found, just that a majority be in place and followed. The eight sobriety checkpoint factors to be considered are: Law enforcement decision powers concerning the implementation of the sobriety checkpoint be made at a supervisory level; Discretion of the police officer is limited; the location and system must be safe; the location is reasonable; time and duration of the checkpoint is limited and short term; there is an official nature of the roadblock; the duration and nature of the detention or stop is reasonable and not excessive; advance publicity (notice) - No longer considered.

To briefly explain the above-mentioned Ingersoll factors considered in designing a legally acceptable sobriety checkpoint, their must be command responsibility overseeing the establishment and maintenance of the checkpoint such that the law enforcement agency is accountable. The command must promulgate the checkpoint so that it is safe and the activity within complies with the rule of law.

The location selected by the supervising agency must be reasonable and safe so that drivers are not put in harms way. Thus, the sobriety checkpoint location must be easily seen with adequate signs, lighting and have safe and easy ingress and egress. Additionally, the checkpoint must have clearly marked areas for a driver to pull over. Standard traffic cones and/or some form marking should be used to direct drivers to an area in a way that avoids confusion and risk.

The vehicle selected for inspection cannot be randomly done. To prevent any randomness, the law enforcement agency in charge of the checkpoint must pre-determine which, when and where vehicles will be stopped. An example of this is when the station command pre-determines that every fifth vehicle will be stopped for a random check. This is to prevent the field officers from having too much discretion concerning which vehicles they will stop or not.

Furthermore, the duration of the stop must be limited such that its intrusiveness is minimized as much as possible so that Fourth Amendments rights are not unreasonably trampled upon. This can allegedly be accomplished by the station command instructing the field officer’s as to what questions to ask and how to determine if a drivers should undergo further investigation for suspicion of driving under the influence.

The eighth factor regarding advance publicity is no longer considered per the Court ruling in People v. Banks, 13 Cal. Rptr. 2d 920 (1992).

G. Cole Casey is THE top DUI Defense Lawyer in San Diego County. His practice is dedicated exclusively to the defense of persons charged with DUI, DWI and Drunk Driving in Southern California.

Call us twenty-four hours a day at 619.237.0384 or send us an email now to discuss an aggressive and legitimate defense strategy for your DUI case.

San Diego DUI Attorney G. Cole Casey     2550 Fifth Avenue, Suite 815     San Diego, CA 92103    Phone: 619.237.0384