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What are my Fourth Amendment Rights in a Southern California DUI Stop?

  • September 1, 2017

    In 1990, a ruling was passed by the U.S. Supreme Court stating that despite intruding on personal liberties, if you are stopped in a DUI checkpoint, this act does not violate your Fourth Amendment protecting against unreasonable “searches and seizures”. Even though this ruling is now law, drivers still continue to fight the lawfulness of DUI checkpoints. This begs the question whether DUI checkpoints are constitutional and if there is a point when they are deemed to be an infringement on one’s Fourth Amendment rights?

     

    The Fourth Amendment and DUI Checkpoints

     

    The U.S. Constitution protects people against being subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures through the 4th Amendment. A warrant is not required for searches provided they are reasonable. In most cases, a search is reasonable if the police officers have probable cause. For example, a search incident after an arrest is reasonable because there is probable cause that the suspect of the search has committed an offense.

     

    Why Are DUI Searches and Seizures Constitutional?

     

    Before the Supreme Court rendered searches and seizures to be legal, a Michigan court had ruled that they constituted an unreasonable seizure. The court ruled that unreasonable seizure was necessary because of the threat that drunk drivers pose to other motorists. Therefore, this exception of the Fourth Amendment was required for protection.

     

    What Conditions Must Be Satisfied For a DUI Checkpoint Search and Seizure To Be Valid?

     

    The following conditions need to be met for a DUI search and seizure:

     

    • The establishment of a sobriety checkpoint by law enforcement senior personnel and not officers who are in the field
    • A neutral and mathematical formula for determining the vehicles that are to be stopped
    • Checkpoints need to be conducted in a way that ensures the safety of officers and motorist. This means warning signs, signals, and proper lighting. There also must be clearly identifiable official cars to minimize the danger to police and motorists.
    • Checkpoints need to be set up in reasonable locations i.e. roads with a high occurrence of alcohol related arrests, incidents, and accidents.
    • Law enforcement officers should practice good judgment in determining when checkpoints will be established and how long the operation will last.
    • The roadblock should be visible including flashing lights, warning signs, police cars, and uniformed officers.
    • Motorists should only be detained long enough for the officer to question them and determine whether they are intoxicated.
    • The operation to mount checkpoints should be publicized before being executed.

    Where Are DUI Searches and Seizures Illegal?

     

    With a good defense attorney you can argue that a DUI search and seizure violated the National Highway Safety Transportation Board‘s guidelines on checkpoints. Here are some of the defenses you can pose:

     

    • The checkpoint operation was not publicized: Since the law requires that a search and seizure operation be public knowledge, you can claim that you had not learnt about it and; therefore, claim it is a violation of your fourth amendment rights.
    • Wrongful Detention: Another loop hole that your lawyer can exploit is if you are held longer than is reasonable to obtain the necessary information and evidence against you.
    • The Operation Last Longer Than Indicated: If a DUI checkpoint takes longer than it was supposed to stay it is an infringement on your Fourth Amendment. If you are stopped during a time frame that is beyond the stated time for the operation, you can make claim that the search and seizure was wrongful.
    • Unreasonable Check Points: If a DUI checkpoint is set up in an unreasonable location, your lawyer can assert the 4th Amendment argument. Checkpoints need to be mounted in areas with a high risk of drunk driving. In this case, the onus is on your attorney to prove why the check point location is unreasonable.
    • The Formula For Stopping Vehicles: Since the law requires that law enforcement device a formula for stopping vehicles for search and seizures, your lawyer can challenge the accuracy and credibility of this formula. Furthermore, your lawyer can argue that this formula was not used to stop you for a search and seizure.

    The Fourth Amendment was enacted to protect you against unlawful searches and seizures. Despite the good intentions of this clause, law enforcement officers are allowed to infringe on your Fourth Amendment rights in the interest of safety. However, you can defend your Fourth Amendment rights by claiming the guidelines for setting up sobriety check points were violated.

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