In Los Angeles, law enforcement officers have begun to use drug swabs at DUI checkpoints to stem the tide of drugged driving. The swabs, which were used New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, allow officials to test for marijuana, cocaine, and other illicit substances.
But is it legal for the LAPD to use these drug swabs at DUI checkpoints?
Legality of DUI Checkpoints
In general, law enforcement officers must have reasonable suspicion before they can pull over a driver suspected of driving under the influence. This rule traces its roots to a driver's Fourth Amendment right to be free of warrantless searches.
However, a major exception to this rule exists in DUI checkpoints. In most states, officers can legally stop drivers and question them to determine if they are drunk -- even if motorists are not suspected of being drunk or otherwise impaired.
DUI checkpoints are most commonly used around the holidays when law enforcement officers know that more people will be out and about drinking and driving, such as New Years Eve and the Fourth of July.
Legality of LAPD's Drug Swabs
What makes the LAPD's checkpoint a little different is the fact that officers are using swabs rather than traditional Breathalyzer tests to test drivers' sobriety.
The drug swab, which takes about eight minutes to complete, uses a driver's saliva to detect the presence of illicit drugs -- cocaine, meth, marijuana, and ecstasy -- as well as prescription drugs like sleeping pills, reports Al Jazeera America. Remember, prescription drugs can impair your driving abilities and lead to a DUI, too.
Some critics contend the swabs aren't effective for checkpoint purposes because trace amounts of drugs can linger in a person's system, meaning the swab results won't reflect the level of a driver's impairment. Still, because the law hasn't been challenged yet, drivers should assume for the time being that the drug swabs are legally enforceable.
Of course, just like with a Breathalyzer, you can refuse a test when you're stopped at a checkpoint. But doing so will lead to your license being automatically suspended, reports Al Jazeera.
A DUI attorney in Los Angeles can fill you in on more information about the LAPD's newly-implemented drug swabs.
- Portable drug test a new addition at New Year's DUI checkpoints (Los Angeles Times)
- Over 3,600 Stopped At Santa Clarita Checkpoints; Only 3 Arrested (FindLaw's Los Angeles DUI Blog)
- San Bernardino Sheriff Hopeful Paul Shrader Opposes Checkpoints (FindLaw's Los Angeles DUI Blog)
- 2 DUI Enforcement Efforts, 2 Very Different Results (FindLaw's Los Angeles DUI Blog)