Can You Turn Your Back On a DUI Checkpoint?

December is a time of celebration. In advance of the holidays that most of us will spend with family, many people will attend holiday parties of one sort or another. It might be the office Christmas party, or a Hanukkah celebration with a group of friends.

The last month of the year is also known for something else in California: Sobriety checkpoints. The police will be out in force looking for people who’ve had too much eggnog at their holiday party. So, if you’re heading home from a celebration, you might find yourself headed toward one of these checkpoints. The question is: Can you get away from being stopped?

Is It Legal to Turn Around?

The answer to this question is yes. A driver has the right to avoid entering a DUI checkpoint. California’s Supreme Court ruled that among the factors that will determine whether a sobriety checkpoint is constitutional is drivers have some notice of the existence of the checkpoint in advance.[1] This can take the form of warning signs on the road, visible signs of police authority such as flood lights and patrol cars, and “aggressive” publicity in local media.[2]

The reason for publicizing the checkpoint is to prevent unfair surprise. Drivers must be allowed to have time to decide to escape the checkpoint.[3] In fact, a checkpoint with no escape route may invalidate the constitutionality of the checkpoint. Furthermore, the rule in California is that officers must be “instructed not to pursue motorists who turned their vehicles away before reaching the checkpoint.”[4]

Don’t Break the Law to Avoid the Checkpoint

However, just because the police have been told not to pursue people who turn away from the checkpoint does not mean they will turn a blind eye to people who break another traffic law to do so. Many drivers who choose to escape the checkpoint are still pulled over because they forget to drive within the rules of the road. Remember, wherever there is a checkpoint, there are likely to be other officers patrolling in the area as well.

Any violation of a traffic law will give the officers probable cause to stop you. Do not make an illegal U-turn, drive onto a sidewalk or median, or even forget to use your turn signal. Check that your brake and headlights are functioning properly before you go out for the evening, and be sure your tags are current.

Contact a Professional Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or someone you care about is charged with a DUI as the result of a checkpoint stop, you will need an attorney with the right experience to fight the charge. As a former deputy district attorney, I have a wealth of experience in California criminal law, and I can help you navigate through the process of defending your rights and keeping your driver’s license.

As a defense attorney, I know the outcome of my efforts shapes an individual’s life. I take my job seriously and commit to doing the very best for each client. Contact me today at (714) 744-4600, and we will find a way through this together.


[1] Ingersoll v. Palmer, (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1321, 743 P.2d 1299. However, lack of publicity alone will not invalidate a checkpoint. People v. Banks, (1993) 6 Cal.4th 926, 949, 25 Cal.Rptr.2d 524.
[2] National Highway Transportation Safety Board, “Low-Staffing Sobriety Checkpoints,” available at http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/enforce/LowStaffing_Checkpoints/images/LowStaffing.pdf.
[3] Ingersoll, at 1327.
[4] Banks, at 932.

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