California DUI Laws and Sobriety Checkpoints

Roadblocks carried out pursuant to those strict guidelines* have been
approved by the California Supreme Court (Ingersoll v Palmer (1987) 43
C3d 1321, 241, CR42). In this 4-3 decision the court stated, "We conclude that within certain limitations a sobriety checkpoint may be operated in a manner consistent with the federal and state Constitutions." The decision stressed a theme of "balancing the need to search against the need to search entrails".

In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court also gave general approval to the use
of roadblocks to enforce drunk driving laws (Michigan State Police Dept.
v Sitz (1990) 496 U.S. 444, 110 S.Ct.2481, 110 L.Ed.2d 412, 47 CrL (BNA)

The court’s decision in Ingersoll was based upon this reason. The
court stated that the primary purpose of a roadblock is to deter drunk
driving, rather than to arrest offenders, And that therefore Fourth
Amendment considerations are not involved.

On the lack of any evidence showing that roadblocks will serve the
stated purpose of deterrence, the court stated, at p. 1339:

It would be presumptuous in the extreme for this court to prohibit the
use of an otherwise permissible and potentially effective procedure
merely because its effectiveness is at the present time largely

Statistics for 1990 C.H.P. roadblocks were published in 1992 in
California Master Plan to Reduce Alcohol and Drug Abuse: 1992
(Sacramento, CA; Department of Alcohol and Drug Program, Jan. 1992) p
B-88. According to this report, the C.H.P. conducted 84 roadblocks during
1990, with only 599 arrests for drunk driving. The cost was nearly
$250,000. That’s about 7 arrests per roadblock, at a cost of over $400.
for each arrest, for the roadblock alone.

*Ingersoll guidelines fall under these general headings:

  1. Decision Making at the Supervisory Level
  2. Limits of Discretion of Field Officers
  3. Maintenance of Safety Conditions
  4. Reasonable Location
  5. Time and Duration
  6. Indicia of Official Nature of Roadblock
  7. Length and Nature of Detention
  8. Advance Publicity

The Ingersoll court also strongly hinted that Vehicle Code section 21,
vesting authority for traffic control with the state, would prevent the
establishment of any permanent roadblock location.

Other References:
Curbing the Drunk Driver Under the Fourth amendment: The
Constitutionality of Roadblock Seizures (1983) 71 Georgetown L.J.
Sobriety Checkpoint Roadblocks: Constitutional in Light of Delaware v
Prouse? (1984) 28 St Louis U.L.J. 813.
Tarantino, J., "The .10 Percent Solution – Warrantless Sobriety
Checkpoints" the Champion, XII No. 1, Jan./Feb 1988 (Washington, D.C.:

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