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The Fourth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution gives you the right to move about freely without being subjected to unlawful searches and seizures by law enforcement. Whether or not checkpoints set up by law enforcement agencies violate the Constitution is a question the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on many times in cases involving different types of checkpoints.


Checkpoint for Law EnforcementLegality of checkpoints depends on their purpose

Checkpoints set up by police to gather general information about criminal activity in an area are violations of the Fourth Amendment according to the Supreme Court. However, the Court has ruled that checkpoints set up by police following a specific crime, such as a hit and run accident, are permitted as long as their purpose is to seek the assistance of anyone who might have witnessed or have information about the criminal activity.

The distinction between the permitted checkpoint and the one the court prohibited lies in the purpose behind each of them. Checkpoints set up near where a crime occurred to gather information as part of an ongoing investigation is different than stopping vehicles to find out if their drivers have committed or are committing crimes.


California DUI checkpoints

When the Supreme Court ruled many years ago that DUI checkpoints did not violate the Constitution, it included specific guidelines for police and other law enforcement agencies to follow to prevent them from being misused. Dui checkpoints in California must comply with the following:


  • There must be a plan prepared in advance of it being set up.
  • The checkpoint must be under command of a supervisor on the scene.
  • An adequate warning must be given to drivers of the checkpoint.
  • There must be an order to how vehicles to be stopped are selected.


Before a checkpoint is put into use, police must decide on which vehicles passing through it will be stopped. It can be done by stopping all vehicles traveling on a roadway or by stopping every second or third vehicle. The important thing is it must follow a predetermined sequence. Deviating from that sequence to single out a particular vehicle would violate the Constitution unless police had probable cause or reasonable suspicion to make the stop.

Unlike checkpoints in some other states, California law requires law enforcement agencies to advertise the date for an intended operation. This is in addition to the signage and warning lights that must be present at the time the checkpoint is active.


Your rights at a California DUI checkpoint

State law gives you the right to not stop at a DUI checkpoint. Unless the officers manning the checkpoint see you committing a violation of the law or see you driving erratically or showing other signs of intoxication, they cannot prevent you from leaving or make it difficult for you to avoid the checkpoint.

Keep in mind that California also uses sobriety checkpoints to check driver’s licenses. If you are caught at a checkpoint without a license or driving with a license that has been revoked or suspended, you can be arrested.


A criminal defense attorney can help with checkpoint arrests

Criminal defense attorneys representing someone arrested at a checkpoint frequently review the procedures followed by law enforcement. Failure on the part of the department or agency to follow California law pertaining to rules for establishing checkpoints could be important in a defense strategy challenging the arrest as being in violation of the person’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Author Photo

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.

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