Criminal Defense in Orange County

The DUI Suppression Hearing: Was the Checkpoint Constitutional?

It is often a good tactic for your criminal defense lawyer to attempt to suppress evidence by attacking the reasons you were detained by law enforcement. There are particular rules and constitutional standards that apply if you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint, as established in the 2000 Supreme Court case of City of Indianapolis v. Edmond.

Under Edmond, if it can be established that the primary purpose of the DUI checkpoint was to catch and arrest drunk drivers, the evidence gathered through the use of that checkpoint may be inadmissible. Whether this is actually true is one matter. It is entirely another matter to elicit that on the stand from a police officer who is an experienced witness, but a skilled DUI attorney in Orange County may be able to do just so. He or she must:

1. Know who to cross-examine.

Edmond requires a decision as to the purpose of a DUI checkpoint be made at the "programmatic level." Thus, the witness must be an individual who had some impact on how, when, and where the checkpoint was established, such as a Sergeant or perhaps a Lieutenant in charge. The constitutional standards cannot be established with a patrol or street officer only.

2. Understand that eliciting such information is more likely if the witness is made to feel comfortable and not attacked.

This is typically accomplished by conversationally establishing routine facts that are already part of the record, such as who was in charge and the specific date and time the checkpoint was held. This creates a rapport without any controversy.

3. Realize that a witness is more likely to agree with a suggestive question if that rapport without controversy has been established.

Your lawyer may at this point comment something along the lines of, "it was a pretty successful night." If the office agrees, a follow-up may matter-of-factly suggest that the intended purpose of a DUI checkpoint is to arrest and prosecute people driving under the influence. An affirmative response by the officer may reveal exactly the unconstitutional reason for the stop under Edmond. The reality is that most officers probably do believe the reason they set up a DUI checkpoint is to arrest drunk drivers, but will likely not admit to such absent a non-adversarial atmosphere.

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