San Diego Sobriety Checkpoints

Are DUI Roadblocks Legal? Where, When and How

Are Sobriety Checkpoints Legal?

San Diego Sobriety Checkpoint Advisories

Dealing with a Sobriety Checkpoint Stop


Are Sobriety Checkpoints Legal in California? 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 and require, at a minimum, that a police 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; now called the “sobriety checkpoint”. The sobriety checkpoint stop is intended to both deter and apprehend 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 defined specific guidelines to ensure that police procedure at the DUI Roadblocks 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. In others words, it’s broadly termed and allows for some deviation.

The eight sobriety checkpoint factors to be considered are:

  1. Law enforcement decision powers concerning the implementation of the sobriety checkpoint be made at a supervisory level
  2. Discretion of the non-supervisory police officer is limited
  3. The location and system where the checkpoint is held must be safe for motorists
  4. The location for the checkpoint must be reasonable
  5. Time and duration of the checkpoint is limited and short term
  6. There is an official nature of the roadblock
  7. The duration and nature of the detention or stop is reasonable and not excessive
  8. Advance publicity (notice) – No longer considered.

To briefly explain the above-mentioned Ingersoll factors considered in designing a legally acceptable sobriety checkpoint, there 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 selected. 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 and helps prevent discrimination based on race, age, gender and other factors.

Furthermore, the duration of the stop must be limited such that its intrusiveness is minimized as much as possible to preserve Fourth Amendments rights. This can allegedly be accomplished by the station command instructing the field officers as to what questions to ask and how to determine if a drivers should undergo further investigation for suspicion of DUI.

The eighth factor regarding advance publicity is no longer considered per the Court ruling in People v. Banks, 13 Cal. Rptr. 2d 920 (1992). In San Diego County, sobriety checkpoints are typically announced via the media ( ie, North County Times Newspaper ) but lack specifications as to exact locations and times that the roadblocks will be established. Madd encourages public awareness as a means of deterrence.

Article written by
San Diego DUI Attorney James Patterson of The San Diego DUI Law Offices of G. Cole Casey, A.P.C.


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San Diego DUI Checkpoint Advisories


  • InformationType: Press Release
  • Subject of Release: Roving DUI Patrols
  • Person Providing Information: Deputy Mike Arens
  • Email Address of Provider:
  • Telephone number of Provider: 760-510-5228
  • Fax number of Provider: 760-510-5201
  • Date of Release: 12/13/2006
  • Time of Release: 18:00


  • Date of Occurrence: Entire month of December
  • Location of Incident: Citywide, San Marcos


In June 2006, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) awarded a $124,771.00 grant to the San Marcos Sheriff’s Station from their Grant Assistance Program (GAP). The Grant will enable the San Marcos Sheriff’s Station to have extra deputies working DUI saturation patrols throughout the month of December. Deputies will be primarily working to identify and arrest drunk drivers but will also be enforcing any alcohol related violations or other law violations. Deputies will also focus on reducing youth access to alcohol throughout the city. The purpose of these details are to allow for a safer driving environment and to reduce the number of alcohol related incidents within the City of San Marcos, during the holiday season.


  • “Avoid the 14” Holiday DUI Crackdown in San Diego County Public Asked to Call 911 to report drunk drivers Mobilization Theme Is “Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest.”

This holiday period is one of California’s most aggressive impaired driving crackdowns of the year with 14 San Diego County agencies taking part in “Avoid the 14” campaign as part of California’s holiday DUI crackdown. “Avoid” is a message to motorists that simply means this: don’t drink and drive and you will avoid being arrested. California’s effort coincides with the national “Drunk Driving, Over the Limit. Under Arrest” campaign taking place across the country.

The City of Imperial Beach obtained a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety to deploy deputies from the Imperial Beach Sheriff’s Station to combat drunk and impaired driving this holiday season. The concentration will be with patrols looking for drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Deputies from the Imperial Beach Sheriff’s station will partner with the San Diego County Probation DUI Enforcement Team this holiday season. A DUI/Driver’s license checkpoint is scheduled for Friday December 15, 2006 in the City of Imperial Beach.

Deputies from the Imperial Beach Station arrested 13 drivers for driving under the influence within the last month at their previous checkpoints.

The sheriff’s department is placing 30-day holds on vehicles driven by drivers who are unlicensed or have a suspended license. This can be a costly experience with storage costs up to $1,500.00. Driver’s with a suspended license and arrested for driving under the influence can incur legal costs amounting to several thousand dollars as well a paying for their stored vehicle.

The Office of Traffic Safety, along with local law enforcement agencies, encourages citizens to call 911 if they see a drunk driver on the road. Provide law enforcement with the exact location, vehicle make and model and license plate. One call could save a life.

OTS has allocated $5 million to fund more than 450 law enforcement agencies and the CHP to conduct regional DUI Avoid campaigns across 35 counties.

Contact: Imperial Beach Traffic Sergeant Carlos Jacobo, (619) 498-2412

* Statistics based on California Highway Patrol 2005 data and Department of Motor Vehicles.

Holiday DUI Crackdown in San Diego County

  • The Sheriff says “Don’t spend your holiday with us!”
  • Public Asked to Call 911 to Report Drunk Drivers

The San Diego Sheriff’s Department is preparing for the most aggressive impaired driving crackdowns of the year, taking part in a campaign as part of California’s holiday DUI crackdown. California’s effort coincides with the national “Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest.” campaign taking place across the country.

The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), provided grant funding for the Sheriff’s “Don’t Spend Your Holiday with Us” program, including deputy overtime for sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols. California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) and Sheriff Kolender are asking for the public’s help in reporting drunk drivers by calling 911.

“We want motorists to exercise common sense and good judgment when calling 911 to report a drunk driver,” said Sheriff Kolender. “Under no circumstances should the public make an attempt to follow or stop the vehicle or interact with the driver. Please leave that to the trained professionals by calling 911.” “It is simple, if you are going to drink, don’t drive. Don’t spend your holiday with us.”

The Sheriff has instructed traffic unit supervisors county-wide to conduct DUI saturation patrols every evening staffing permits. In addition, sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols are scheduled throughout the County of San Diego. There are plans to suspend the DUI Quick Release Program during the holiday season.

Editor’s note: To schedule an interview regarding impaired driving efforts, access to a DUI Checkpoint or request a ride-along with law enforcement during the holiday period, please contact Lt. Alex Dominguez at 858-974-2089 or via email at

* Statistics based on California Highway Patrol 2005 data and Department of Motor Vehicles.


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Approaching a Sobriety Checkpoint: What Now?

The main objective of the police officers manning the sobriety checkpoint is to arrest impaired motorists, obviously. In order to detect drunk drivers (or those at or above the legal limit of .08% BAC), the police officer will want to approach your vehicle, get as close to your face as possible while asking you questions, and hopefully have you breathe on them in the process of replying (to detect the smell of alcohol). The officer will also be closely monitoring your coordination and motor skills while you gather your drivers license and other documents, assessing whether you are distracted by the interrogation or can multitask (answer the questions WHILE finding and providing the documents). If you’ve had a beer or two after work or some eggnog at a holiday dinner and could be near the legal limit, you may want to limit the officer’s access to the cabin area of your vehicle and their proximity to your person.

To prevent the officer’s head from intruding through your driver’s side window to smell your breath, you have two options.

  1. Avoid going through the checkpoint altogether and take the turn out that is supposed to be provided on approach to the roadblock. The risk in doing so is that there is often an extra patrol car parked nearby monitoring the turnout, and that officer might pursue you and pull you over anyway.
  2. If you do go through the checkpoint, or are pulled over near it, some anti-roadblock activists suggest that you leave only the top two or three inches of your window open to slide your drivers license, registration and insurance documents through the gap. Keeping the window closed has the potential of prompting the officer to ask you to exit the car, and you’ll have to comply.

If you are 21 years of age or older, you do NOT have to submit to roadside field sobriety tests, handheld portable breath testing devices, or any questioning outside of establishing your identity, registration and insurance. Providing your address falls under identity, so you must disclose your current place of residence. That is the extent of the questions you are legally required to answer.

ALWAYS BE POLITE and cordial, but succint. You won’t go wrong by saying too little.

The cop wants to arrest you for ANY detection of alcohol, period. To get there, he or she needs to assess you first. You’re not required to tell the officer where you’ve been, where you’re going, whether you’ve been drinking, or what you’ve eaten. You DO need to provide the requested documents. You have the right to state “I don’t approve of checkpoints, here are the documents required of me”. If the officer continues to probe after you have established your identity, you can ask “May I leave now?”. Further questioning can be answered with “Am I free to leave now?”. If you are still detained, you can ask “would you like to see my driver’s license again?” or “do you still need my driver’s license?” if it has not been returned to you.

In summary, say as little as possible, participate only as required by law, be polite at all times, but most importantly DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE!

For further information on handling police traffic stops and probable cause, please see our police traffic stops section. Click the following link to read more about your legal rights concerning DUI and vehicle searches in California.