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San Diego DUI Checkpoint Law

Over recent years, the law enforcement offices throughout the San Diego area have ramped up their checkpoint program designed to reduce driving under the influence (DUI) in the area. A DUI checkpoint is essentially a roadblock that allows police to randomly check drivers for signs of intoxication. On average, a single DUI checkpoint can yield between 3 and 20 DUI arrests in a single night.

DUI checkpoints San Diego

If you drive at night around the San Diego, CA area, you are likely to encounter a checkpoint eventually. Local police tend to arrange DUI checkpoints at areas with higher-than-average DUI rates and places most likely to catch impaired drivers, such as roads that connect busy metropolitan areas to residential neighborhoods.

How Does a DUI Checkpoint Work?

A DUI checkpoint is a controlled flow of traffic, and as each vehicle passes through the checkpoint, the officers managing the checkpoint will look for signs of intoxication. If a police officer can establish probable cause that a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they will conduct an arrest for DUI.

DUI checkpoints are carefully managed, and there are various rules the police must follow when managing DUI checkpoints:

  • A DUI checkpoint must be managed by supervisory law enforcement officers, not field officers. This aims to prevent inconsistent or arbitrary enforcement.
  • The officers managing a checkpoint must use a mathematical system for conducting inspections, such as stopping every third car or every fifth car. This prevents police from exercising “unbridled discretion” and maintains fairness.
  • Each inspection should be unintrusive and brief. If the driver does not exhibit signs of intoxication, the police must allow them to pass. If they do exhibit signs of intoxication, the police can move them to a secondary screening area for further evaluation.
  • The checkpoint must have appropriate signage and safety features that make it easily recognizable as a DUI checkpoint.

Typically, the police have to establish probable cause to conduct a traffic stop for suspected DUI, such as erratic driving or a broken taillight. Since DUI checkpoints effectively allow them to circumvent this requirement, the police must adhere closely to the regulations for DUI checkpoints.

Potential Penalties for DUI Conviction in California

If you are arrested at a DUI checkpoint and charged with DUI, you could face a wide range of penalties depending on the severity of your charge. In California, DUI can qualify for a misdemeanor or felony status depending on the unique details of the case. The potential penalties for conviction include:

  • Fines and penalty assessments totaling thousands of dollars.
  • Incarceration, which can extend from a few days in county jail for a misdemeanor to several years in state prison for a felony.
  • Loss of driving privileges. The defendant’s driver’s license will be suspended, and they may require the use of an ignition interlock device (IID) for an extended time.
  • Personal and professional consequences. The defendant may lose professional licenses and standing in their community following their conviction.
  • Mandatory drug and alcohol counseling or rehabilitation. The judge handling sentencing may compel the defendant to attend a rehab program if they display signs of a substance abuse disorder. Compulsory drug and alcohol education is also common as part of DUI sentencing in California and the defendant must pay for the cost of their classes themselves.
  • Community service.
  • Restitution to victims if the defendant harmed anyone with their actions.

If you or a loved one have been charged with DUI in San Diego after passing through a DUI checkpoint, it’s essential to know how a DUI defense attorney can help your situation.

It’s natural to have concerns about the legality of these checkpoints, and it may seem unfair to face DUI charges because you were stopped at a checkpoint. Regardless of how you were arrested for DUI in San Diego, it is essential to acknowledge the value of legal counsel as you navigate your case.


Zentz & Zentz have years of experience providing defense counsel to individuals charged with DUI in San Diego, CA. The following are some of the most common questions we hear regarding DUI checkpoints in the area.

Q: Are California DUI Checkpoints Legal?

A: DUI checkpoints are legal under both the U.S. Constitution and the California State Constitution. However, the police managing a DUI checkpoint in San Diego must meet the aforementioned criteria to ensure the checkpoint does not intrude on the rights of drivers.

Q: What Are Your Rights at a DUI Checkpoint?

A: A DUI checkpoint is not the same as a traffic stop. Drivers are expected to answer basic questions from the checkpoint officer before they go on their way, but they are under no obligation to do so. A DUI checkpoint does not negate a driver’s rights, and the police must follow applicable laws and procedures when managing a DUI checkpoint.

Q: Is It Legal to Turn Around at a DUI Checkpoint?

A: Many DUI checkpoints are arranged in visible locations, so a driver may change direction before proceeding to the checkpoint. As long as doing so does not violate any traffic laws, it is perfectly legal for a driver to change direction to avoid a checkpoint. However, if they do so in an erratic manner that violates traffic laws, this could serve as justification for an officer at the checkpoint to follow the driver and conduct a traffic stop for suspected DUI. Police cannot conduct traffic stops simply because a driver chose to avoid a DUI checkpoint.

Q: Can I Remain Silent at a DUI Checkpoint?

A: Your right to remain silent applies at DUI checkpoints. You are under no obligation to answer any questions from the officer managing the checkpoint. In most cases, the officer will ask a driver if they have been drinking, the driver will answer “no,” and the officer will send the driver on their way if they have no probable cause to continue with questioning.

Contact Our DUI Defense Team Today

Zentz & Zentz have years of experience guiding clients through the most challenging DUI cases, including those resulting from DUI checkpoint arrests. If you believe the police mismanaged the DUI checkpoint or failed to properly establish probable cause to conduct an arrest, we can help you address the situation. Contact us today for more information about how we can assist you with your DUI defense.

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