If you have ever been driving through Oakland and see flashing police lights across the road, you may realize you are about to drive through a police checkpoint. In most cases, these checkpoints are to identify drivers who may be impaired, driving without a license, or uninsured drivers. However, even if you haven't done anything wrong, driving through a police checkpoint can make you nervous.
If the police find anything they think might be suspicious, they can pull you over for a further investigation. If the police believe they have probable cause that you might be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you can end up under arrest. If you were arrested after going through an Oakland sobriety checkpoint, talk to an experienced California DUI defense attorney about your rights and legal defenses.
How Common Are DUI Checkpoints by Oakland Police?
Most counties in California use checkpoints throughout the year to find drivers who might be under the influence of alcohol, driving without a seatbelt, or not having a valid license or insurance. These DUI checkpoints can happen throughout the year but they often happen on a weekend or during a holiday, such as the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, or Memorial Day.
Roadside checkpoints can be supported by federal programs that are intended to reduce drunk driving, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) and California Office of Traffic Safety. These programs provide funding for checkpoints and patrols, as well as officer training and certification in:
- Standard Field Sobriety Testing
- Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE)
- Drug Recognition Expert (DRE)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "A 2010–2011 survey of law enforcement agencies in the United States found that 73% of state and 42% of local law enforcement agencies had conducted at least one sobriety checkpoint in the past year."
Where Do Police Set Up DUI Checkpoints and Make DUI Arrests in Oakland?
Drunk driving arrests can be made anywhere in Oakland, from downtown, to residential neighborhoods, to California Highway Patrol (CHP) arrests on I-80, I-580, I-880, or I-980. A lot of the arrests happen on surface streets around freeway on-ramps and off-ramps, as drivers are avoiding highways or about to hop onto the freeway to get home.
DUI checkpoints are usually planned in areas that have plenty of room for conducting traffic stops, and limited turn-off options for drivers to go around the checkpoint. Some of the past Oakland DUI checkpoint locations have included:
- Telegraph Avenue and 55th Street, Oakland, CA 94609
- Telegraph Avenue and 52nd Street, Oakland, CA 94609
- Foothill Boulevard, near Fremont
- MacArthur Boulevard and Richards Road, Oakland, CA 94619
- 29th Avenue and International Boulevard, Oakland, CA 94601
The locations of these sobriety checkpoints are often announced ahead of time by the Oakland Police Department. Part of the purpose behind DUI checkpoints is to discourage people from driving if they might have a few drinks because they know there will be police out checking drivers. According to the NHTSA, the purpose of announcing locations is to maximize the deterrent effect and increase the public perception of the risk of apprehension to drivers.
What Happens at a Sobriety Checkpoint in Oakland?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), during a sobriety checkpoint, "vehicles are stopped during a sobriety checkpoint using a random pattern, such as every fourth or fifth vehicle. If law enforcement has reason to believe that the driver has been drinking, the driver is given the Standardized Field Sobriety Test, followed by chemical testing to determine whether the driver is impaired by alcohol and/or other drugs."
In general, the police won't stop every car. If they stop your car, the officer may ask for your license, registration, or proof of insurance. The officer may also ask a few seemingly innocent questions, like "where are you going?" or "have you had anything to drink tonight?" If you answer that you had a drink or two, that may be enough for them to pull you over for a further investigation.
Even if you say you haven't been drinking, the officer may be looking for other signs of drug or alcohol use, or other violations. For example, the officer may try to detect the smell of alcohol on the driver's breath or the smell of marijuana smoke in the vehicle. The officer may also look for bloodshot eyes or listen for slurred speech.
Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in California?
Yes. DUI checkpoints are legal in California, as long as they follow certain requirements. These constitutional requirements are intended to make sure that police do not abuse their powers or violate the rights of drivers. However, the police do not always follow the rules and regulations to protect the constitutional rights of drivers in Oakland. Requirements for a legal DUI checkpoint in California include:
- Checkpoint locations are in a reasonable place
- Reasonable duration and at a reasonable time
- Safety measures in place
- Drivers stopped for a minimal amount of time
- Supervising officers are directing the operation
- Neutral system for stopping drivers
- Obvious law enforcement presence and visibility
- Public notice available
Sobriety checkpoints are not legal in all states and some states don't use them often, even if they are not considered illegal. For example, sobriety checkpoints are not permitted because of state laws or they are considered to violate the state constitution, including:
- Rhode Island
After an Arrest at a DUI Checkpoint in Oakland
Most arrests at DUI checkpoints in California involve charges for driving under the influence of alcohol or drug DUI. Some drivers can be arrested for other offenses, including driving on a suspended license, DUI probation violations, or DUI with a child passenger. Even if DUI checkpoints in California are considered constitutional, you may still have a strong legal defense to avoid a criminal conviction.
East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of DUI defense experience and understands the challenges involved in challenging an arrest at a California sobriety checkpoint. Contact a local DUI defense lawyer who understands defense strategies and plea bargain negotiations to give you the best chance for success.