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What are Police Looking for at Sobriety Checkpoints?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Sep 11, 2019

Attempts to Escape DUI Sobriety Checkpoints

There are sobriety checkpoints all over Los Angeles County.  Believe it or not, you can look up sobriety checkpoints on the internet and see at any given time where they're going to be.  The police don't hide that information.  They have specific rules even to set up the sobriety checkpoint in the first place.

What they're looking at in these checkpoints is — believe it or not – first and foremost — they post police officers around the perimeter of the checkpoints, and what ends up happening is people who are drunk or have been drinking and driving will try to escape the sobriety checkpoint once they see it — make a U-turn or try to go down a side street and the police are just waiting.

Usually, it's the motorcycle cops because they can hide better.  So, that's their first line right there.  They see somebody trying to get away from it.  They figure that person must be drunk, so they pull them over.  They do the test and have the breathalyzer right there on the scene.

They check, and then they've got a DUI.  So, that's one thing that they're looking for.  In my opinion, people are trying to escape the checkpoint, making an illegal traffic move, giving the police the probable cause to stop them.

Believe it or not, even if the person doesn't make an illegal traffic move, just the fact that they're going down some side street and it's clear they're trying to get away from the DUI checkpoint, that's enough for the police to make up an excuse to stop you and it's straightforward for them to do.  They can say that you're swerving.  They can say that you illegally changed lanes without signaling.

There's a whole host of reasons they can come up with to pull you over, and a lot of times, it's your word against their word.  If they're wrong, they let you go.  No harm, no foul.  If they're right and you're DUI, no one's going to believe you because you're driving under the influence, and they're going to think you're just trying to make something up to avoid taking a conviction for a DUI.

Admitting That Your Were Drinking and Smell of Alcohol

Another big thing they're looking for is when you're coming up to the line at a DUI checkpoint, they have people roll their windows down.  They talk to them and tell them they're doing a DUI checkpoint.  They're investigating.  They start to ask questions.  If someone's stupid enough to say, yeah, I was drinking.  I just came from a bar or a club. They're going to move them over, check them and probably arrest that person if their blood alcohol level is .08 or greater.

They're also looking to smell the inside of the vehicle and smell the driver's breath.  If their breath smells like alcohol, then they're going to have them pull over, and they're going to start their DUI investigation.

It's very easy for them at these checkpoints because they have everything they need.  They have experts who can identify people on drugs or prescription medication.  They've got the machine right there.  They don't even need to take you into the station.  They can draw blood right there, so they don't even take you to the hospital or the station.

Criminal Investigation and Probable Cause

So, it's very easy for them at this DUI checkpoint.  So, in addition to the person trying to escape the checkpoint, the person who sells like alcohol, and in addition to the person who is silly enough to tell them they've been drinking, the last thing is, they have to do a full-blown investigation. They're going to need some probable cause to get you out of the car.

I other words, if you come through the checkpoint and you don't smell like alcohol, and you're not doing anything illegal, technically, they shouldn't be able to get you out of the car.  They should let you move on.  Tell you to have a nice night.

To get you out of the car, they need some probable cause. Unfortunately, they will often make up the likely cause — say that you smell like alcohol, say you were slurring your speech, and that's how they justify getting you out of the car.

So, one good thing is a lot of the police officers have bodycam videos now, so some of these claims that they make can be checked into if there's any video on the scene, and if there's no video on the scene, the defense attorney will certainly have some good questions to ask — how come there isn't any video?  Why are you guys pulling people over at these checkpoints, and you don't have any footage available so we can check to see if what you're claiming is true.

The bottom line is if you've been arrested and you're being prosecuted for a DUI in Los Angeles County, and the source of the arrest had to do with a DUI checkpoint, you should contact an attorney immediately.  I like to get you in the office, layout everything.

Have you be honest with me and tell me what happened, and then I will use my twenty-five years of experience to figure out the best way to handle the case — figure out whether it's a case that should be prosecuted a jury trial, or whether it's a case that there should be a negotiated plea.  We should do damage control and deal with the DMV and the criminal court in the most effective way possible.

About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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