Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in California?

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DUI checkpoints are legal in California (Vehicle Code §2814.2) if law-enforcement agencies follow specific guidelines.

The California Highway Patrol and local law-enforcement agencies use DUI checkpoints to stop vehicles at predetermined locations and check drivers for impairment. California is one of thirty-seven states where sobriety checkpoints are authorized by statute.

Law enforcement agencies are required to implement certain guidelines during DUI checkpoints. Otherwise, any evidence they obtain at the checkpoint may be excluded.

Many people think that they do not have any options if they are facing DUI charges stemming from a DUI checkpoint, but that is not correct.

A DUI attorney can determine the circumstances of the checkpoint and fight to reduce your charges.

Contact The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, today to meet with a member of our team.

What Happens at a DUI Checkpoint?

Law-enforcement agencies often set up DUI checkpoints on primary roadways during the evening hours.

Any vehicles traveling toward the checkpoint must proceed through it. Making a U-turn and fleeing the checkpoint can give officers grounds to pull you over.

When a vehicle gets to the front of the line, the driver must stop and talk to the officer managing the checkpoint.

The officer will likely ask the driver to roll down their window and provide a copy of their driver’s license and vehicle registration.

Law-enforcement officers may ask drivers to submit to a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) to detect alcohol usage.

A PAS device is a roadside breathalyzer test. The California Vehicle Code considers a PAS device a field-sobriety test so that you can decline without consequences.

The police officer may also ask basic questions about where you are traveling from and whether you have consumed any alcoholic beverages.

A driver who does not show signs of intoxication should be allowed to drive away from the checkpoint after a minimal intrusion.

If the law-enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that the driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol, they can arrest them for DUI.

When Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in California?

California implements strict requirements to make a sobriety checkpoint constitutional. If the police officers ignore these guidelines, the driver may have grounds to challenge the underlying DUI arrest.

The California Supreme Court outlined eight “functional guidelines” for law enforcement agencies to abide by in Ingersoll v. Palmer (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1321, 743 P.2d 1299; 241 Cal.Rptr. 42. Below is a brief overview of these guidelines.

Operational Decision-Making

The functional decisions about a DUI sobriety checkpoint must be made by supervisory law enforcement personnel, not field officers. This guideline aims to reduce the potential for “arbitrary and capricious enforcement” of the roadblock.

Limits on Discretion of Field Officers

The agency must implement a neutral formula to determine who is stopped at the roadblock.

An example of an acceptable procedure would be stopping every third or fifth driver who comes through the checkpoint. The agency cannot permit field officers to stop any driver or car they want.

Consideration of Safety Conditions

Before hosting a DUI checkpoint, the agency must implement safety measures to protect officers and motorists from danger. Law-enforcement officers can use the following to increase the safety of the checkpoint:

  • Spotlights,
  • Traffic cones,
  • Warning signs and signals, and
  • Clearly identified vehicles and personnel.

The agency should include offroad or shoulder areas to allow space for drivers to pull over and answer additional questions.

Reasonable Location of the Checkpoint

The checkpoint should occur in a “reasonable location.” Agencies can determine a good location by reviewing drunk driving arrests and accidents statistics.

Time of Day and Duration of Operation

Checkpoints should occur when agencies are most likely to catch and deter drunk drivers.

Typically, that means the evening to early morning hours because that is when most DUI arrests occur. Supervisory officers should use “good judgment” in setting the duration of the checkpoint.

Indicia of Official Nature of Roadblock

Law-enforcement officers should not attempt to hide the purpose of the roadblock.

Motorists approaching the checkpoint should be able to quickly and easily recognize that they are coming to a DUI checkpoint. Officers who work the DUI checkpoint should wear their full police uniform.

Length and Nature of Detention

Agencies must minimize the amount of time each motorist is detained to limit the intrusiveness of the DUI checkpoint.

Each motorist should be detained only long enough for the officer to question them briefly and look for signs of intoxication.

Advance Publicity About Sobriety Checkpoint

The agency hosting a DUI checkpoint must give the public advance notice of the checkpoint.

Publicity reduces the intrusiveness of the stop and increases the deterrent effect because drivers will take special care to drive sober in the vicinity of the checkpoint.

Agencies may publicize sobriety checkpoints on their department website, in local newspapers, on apps, or on local news stations. 

What Signs of Impairment Do Officers Look for at DUI Checkpoints in California?

Officers at a DUI checkpoint can stop certain drivers and question them briefly while they look for signs of intoxication. Signs of intoxication include:

  • The smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath,
  • Slurred speech,
  • Bloodshot eyes,
  • Delayed responses to basic questions,
  • Inability to find driver’s license or registration, and
  • Alcohol containers inside the vehicle.

If officers observe any signs of impairment, they have reasonable suspicion to investigate further. 

Contact The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, to Discuss the Legality of DUI Checkpoints in California

Law enforcement takes drunk driving charges very seriously, and you should, too. A DUI lawyer can offer several advantages, such as: 

  • Negotiating with the prosecutor to lessen your charges or have your case dismissed entirely,
  • Preparing a valid legal defense for your case, and
  • Explaining the charges filed against you.

Our team of aggressive, experienced criminal lawyers at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, know the requirements for DUI checkpoints in California.

If the DUI checkpoint where you got arrested violated those guidelines, we can talk to the prosecutor about dismissing your charges.

Contact our office today to schedule an appointment with a member of our team.

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Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.