The legal rights of California drivers at DUI checkpoints

It is against the law to drive in California with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or greater. Police can pull over a driver on suspicion of drunk driving if there is probable cause that the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Evidence of this could include erratic driving, crossing lanes without using a turn signal or otherwise violating traffic laws.

Once pulled over with probable cause, a California driver has agreed to be tested for alcohol through a blood or breath sample. It is illegal to refuse to do so under California's "implied consent" law. State law holds that by virtue of obtaining a legal drivers' license, California drivers have agreed to such a test if they exhibit signs of intoxication.

However, in order to take a blood sample without consent by the driver, police need to obtain a search warrant. While a driver can certainly be charged with a crime by refusing to submit to a test, which is an enhancement the only way to forcibly take a test is with a search warrant.

DUI checkpoints and no refusal initiatives

Some states, including California, use DUI checkpoints to check for impaired drivers. The U.S. Supreme Court has that DUI checkpoints are an "intrusion and inconvenience" on individual liberties, but that they are not unconstitutional because of the state's interest in stopping drunk driving. Some states have even implemented "no refusal" checkpoints, in which judges are on call to issue warrants when a driver refuses to submit to a blood test.

While the legality of DUI checkpoints has long been established, the issue of police forcibly taking blood samples without a warrant is a new issue with ramifications still being decided in California courts.

Warrantless searches in California

The U.S. Supreme Court held in 2013 that police cannot conduct a blood test of drivers to test for alcohol without first obtaining a warrant (Missouri v. McNeely). Many states had argued that since alcohol dissipates in the body, it met the "exigent circumstances" exception to the 4th Amendment right that police need a search warrant before conducting a search. The McNeely decision shut down this practice.

However, in California law enforcement had conducted warrantless blood searches before the McNeely decision. Recently, the California Court of Appeal held that the McNeely decision does not apply retroactively to searches conducted prior to the ruling in McNeely. Therefore, Californians with pending DUI cases that rely primarily on evidence obtained from blood samples obtained without a warrant will still go forward.

Protecting your rights

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal and is a bad decision. However, in an attempt to prosecute criminal activity, state authorities cannot violate state and federal constitutional rights. In California, for example, police at a DUI checkpoint cannot investigate all drivers for intoxication; police must instead use a randomized system, such as stopping every fifth car, so as not to overly tread on the legal rights of Californians.

Drivers accused of DUI should speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney at the Law Offices of Jess C. Bedore III. The certified criminal law specialists at the Jess C. Bedore III law offices can protect the rights of drivers accused of DUI and potentially limit the severe consequences associated with a DUI conviction in California.