The 4th Amendment of the Constitution guarantees all people the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Checkpoints are “seizures” within the meaning of the 4th Amendment and must be reasonable to be valid. In a case involving the constitutionality of police sobriety checkpoints, the US Supreme Court held that these checkpoints met the 4th Amendment standard of "reasonable search and seizure." Although cases have discussed the existence of valid routine license and registration checkpoints, driver’s license checkpoints themselves have not been explicitly ruled constitutional. However Section 12801.5(e) of the CA Vehicle Code does state that: “a peace officer may not detain or arrest a person solely on the belief that the person is an unlicensed driver” Additionally checkpoints meant to detect general criminal wrongdoing or for the purpose of immigration enforcement (away from the border) are not constitutional. AB 353 has also changed the law related to impounds at checkpoints.

What is a DUI Checkpoint?
A roadblock set up by law enforcement agencies on specific roads and highways to stop and hold people suspected of driving under the influence.

How does an officer determine who to stop at a checkpoint?
Like a roadblock for border crossings or other checks, officers should use a neutral policy or formula to stop vehicles and check the sobriety of the driver (every third, tenth driver, etc). If the driver appears intoxicated (slurred speech, glassy eyes, etc.) officers will ask the driver to exit the vehicle and perform field sobriety tests. Under CA law an officer CAN require that a driver produce a valid license, registration, and proof of insurance however: Officers should not request or demand licenses at DUI checkpoints unless there are reasonable grounds to believed the driver is impaired

Why can they take place?
In Ingersoll v. Palmer the Supreme Court of California upheld the constitutionality of checkpoints and identified factors for balancing individual rights and public safety.

How is a location chosen for a checkpoint?
The location of the checkpoint should be planned and approved by a supervisor in advance and should be reasonable i.e. on a road having a high rate of alcohol related accidents or arrests.

What makes a checkpoint valid?
The Ingersoll factors to determine if a checkpoint is reasonable include the selection of the site for the checkpoint as discussed above as well as whether: • the checkpoint was set up in a clearly identifiable way (proper lighting, off-road space for further questioning) • the location highlights the official nature of the checkpoint (warning signs, presence of officers in uniform, etc.) • the length and nature of the detention was reasonable (each motorist should be detained only long enough for the officer to question the driver briefly and to look for signs of intoxication) • there was advance publicity of the checkpoint

How are checkpoints funded?
The main source of funding for checkpoints is grants from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). OTS mini grants to local law enforcement agencies outline specific requirements on data collection and publicity.

ICE agents at checkpoints?
The closer you are to the border the more likely that ICE will collaborate with local police; however a state or local checkpoint’s primary purpose of the checkpoint must still be to preserve public safety. However, ICE may be notified when an officer suspects the driver is undocumented although: Drivers (or passengers) are not compelled to answer any questions beyond giving their name

AB 353
• Drivers without licenses but sober will have until the end of the checkpoint to have a licensed driver pick up the vehicle If the vehicle is towed the sober unlicensed driver may pick up the vehicle the next day with a properly licensed driver Effective January 1, 2012

Can I avoid a checkpoint?
Yes, if you see or know about a checkpoint you do not have to enter it, however if you violate any traffic law while trying to avoid it (illegal turn or lane change, etc.) the police are permitted to stop you.


a. Consider a rapid response network to let people know about checkpoints in your community and have licensed drivers available to pick up vehicles. b. Consider a ride share program in your city. c. Do you know what your city’s checkpoint/impound policies are? You can submit a Public Records Act request to find out.

ACLU of Southern California Orange County Office 2100 N. Broadway Ave, Ste. 209 Santa Ana, CA 92706 (714) 450-3962

Checkpoint Tool for Advocates

1. Your car gets impounded: a. See ACLU-SC Know Your Rights: Impounds and b. National Lawyers Guild LA chapter campaign fact sheet and flyer 2. You think officers are violating the law: a. See ACLU-NC Checkpoint Observing Toolkit

This publication is for educational purposes only; it is not intended as, and is not a substitute for, legal advice. American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California

If you feel you were mistreated you can file a complaint with your local law enforcement agency or contact your local ACLU. If you do submit a complaint be sure to keep a copy.

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