Ingersoll v. Palmer

Decision Date29 October 1987
Docket NumberS.F. 25001
Citation743 P.2d 1299,43 Cal.3d 1321,241 Cal.Rptr. 42
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 743 P.2d 1299, 56 USLW 2306 William INGERSOLL et al., Petitioners, v. Alfred PALMER, as Chief of Police, etc., et al., Respondents.

Pamela Victorine, Deputy City Atty., Los Angeles, for respondent Daryl Gates.

Ronald E. Niver, Deputy Atty. Gen., San Francisco, for respondent State of Cal.

KAUFMAN, Justice.

This case presents the question whether sobriety checkpoints are permissible under the federal and state Constitutions. We conclude that within certain limitations a sobriety checkpoint may be operated in a manner consistent with the federal and state Constitutions.


Petitioners are California taxpayers who seek to prohibit the operation of sobriety checkpoints in California. Respondents are chiefs of police of various California cities and the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol. Petitioners alleged that the respondent law enforcement officers in the various jurisdictions around the state had begun or planned to begin using sobriety checkpoints.

In November 1984, in response to a request by the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, the Attorney General issued an opinion that roadblocks could constitutionally be used to detect and apprehend drunk drivers if certain safeguards were maintained to minimize the intrusion on motorists. (67 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 471 (1984).)

That same month, the Burlingame Police Department (the Department) set up the first sobriety checkpoint program to operate in California, following the guidelines set forth in the Attorney General's opinion. 1 The Burlingame checkpoint was expected to serve as a model for others. We therefore examine the Burlingame checkpoint as illustrative of checkpoint operation procedures.

The Department promulgated a detailed manual to govern the checkpoint operations. The manual covered legal considerations, including the Attorney General's guidelines; a cost analysis; factors affecting location selection; required personnel and equipment; training and briefing of checkpoint personnel; press relations and publicity; as well as procedures for a follow-up evaluation.

The location for the Burlingame checkpoint was selected by taking into account frequency of drunk driving arrests and accidents, and safety factors such as traffic patterns and street layout. A suitable location was selected on El Camino Real for a checkpoint intercepting northbound traffic. 2 2 Warning signs (including a sign announcing a sobriety checkpoint) were posted. A cone taper diverted traffic to a single northbound lane. The signs and cone taper were set up according to Caltrans regulations for signing and lane closure.

The checkpoint operation was supervised by a commander under whom two sergeants served. One sergeant supervised a team of traffic control and screening officers, and the second sergeant supervised the field sobriety test teams. Two traffic control officers, with support staff, set up the checkpoint and selected every fifth car for screening. There were one to four screening officers who contacted the motorists. Nonsworn reserve personnel were available for recording information and timing each contact. One to four officers, each with a nonsworn reserve assistant, were on duty to administer the field sobriety tests. There was also a booking officer, an officer to operate an intoxilizer, one for photographing and one alternate. There were also nonsworn personnel available for interpreting, transportation and booking assistance. All the officers chosen for checkpoint duty had a good record of "driving under the influence" (DUI) detection and arrest, all had recent refresher training on recognizing the symptoms of drug and alcohol use, and all had special training in checkpoint procedures, including conducting a simulated checkpoint. All officers on duty at the checkpoint were in full uniform.

On the night of the checkpoint operation, every fifth car was stopped and directed to a screening officer. The screening officer gave the driver a brief prescribed oral explanation of the checkpoint, and handed him or her an information flyer and a postage paid opinion survey card. 3 During the contact, the screening officer observed the driver for bloodshot eyes, alcohol on the breath, and any other signs of impairment. The officer also shined a flashlight into the vehicle, looking for any open containers or other evidence of alcohol consumption. If no symptoms of impairment were observed, the driver was directed to continue into the northbound traffic lanes. If signs of impairment were observed, the driver was directed to a secondary testing area, where another officer would administer a field sobriety test. A sign announcing the checkpoint was posted sufficiently in advance of the checkpoint location to permit motorists to turn aside, and under the operational guidelines no motorist was to be stopped merely for choosing to avoid the checkpoint.

The sobriety checkpoint was given advance publicity, including its date and general location. During the checkpoint operation, from 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on November 16-17, 1984, 233 motorists were screened. Only 10 were asked to perform field sobriety tests, and all 10 passed. The checkpoint resulted in no arrests. The average detention periods for those cars stopped was 28 seconds. The average time for those who took the field sobriety tests was 6.13 minutes.

Petitioners filed an original petition for writ of mandate in this court within three days after Burlingame established its first sobriety checkpoint. We transferred the matter to the Court of Appeal. The First District, Division Three, denied petitioners' request for a stay and issued an alternative writ. The Court of Appeal issued an opinion in which the majority held sobriety checkpoints conducted in accordance with certain guidelines are permissible under the United States and California Constitutions. We granted the taxpayers' petition for review. 4


Petitioners contend the validity of a sobriety checkpoint stop must be determined by the standard set forth in In re Tony C. (1978) 21 Cal.3d 888, 148 Cal.Rptr. 366, 582 P.2d 957, requiring an individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. If the primary purpose of the stop here were to detect crime or gather evidence of crime, we would agree with the contention that an individualized suspicion of wrongdoing is required. But, as we shall explain, the primary purpose of the stop here was not to discover evidence of crime or to make arrests of drunk drivers but to promote public safety by deterring intoxicated persons from driving on the public streets and highways. We therefore conclude the propriety of the sobriety checkpoint stops involved here is to be determined not by the standard pertinent to traditional criminal investigative stops, but rather by the standard applicable to investigative detentions and inspections conducted as part of a regulatory scheme in furtherance of an administrative purpose. (See People v. Hyde (1974) 12 Cal.3d 158, 165-166, 173, 115 Cal.Rptr. 358, 524 P.2d 830.)

In upholding airport screening searches, a majority of this court in Hyde applied the administrative search rationale. (12 Cal.3d at p. 165 et seq., 115 Cal.Rptr. 358, 524 P.2d 830.) The concurring minority, reaching the same result, preferred a more generic balancing test of reasonableness. (12 Cal.3d at p. 172 et seq., 115 Cal.Rptr. 358, 524 P.2d 830.) But, verbal formulations aside, both the majority and the concurring minority in Hyde relied upon essentially the same principles and factors.

The majority noted: "Like all searches subject to the Fourth Amendment, an administrative screening must be measured against the constitutional mandate of reasonableness. In the case of administrative searches, however, 'there can be no ready test for determining reasonableness other than by balancing the need to search against the invasion which the search entails.' (Camara v. Municipal Court (1967) supra, 387 U.S. 523, 536-537 [87 S.Ct. 1727, 1735, 18 L.Ed.2d 930, 940].) It is ironic, therefore, that by adopting the administrative search doctrine to evaluate the validity of airport screening procedures we must undertake a similar process of balancing to that which would have followed from a reliance upon Terry [v. Ohio (1968) 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889]." (People v. Hyde, supra, 12 Cal.3d 158, 166, 115 Cal.Rptr. 358, 524 P.2d 830, italics added.) The concurring minority reasoned: "It is now settled ... that there is no fixed standard of reasonableness that applies to all types of governmental action which is subject to the mandates of the Fourth Amendment. Where, as here, we deal with a type of official conduct that (1) has objectives qualitatively different from those of the conventional search and seizure in the criminal context and (2) cannot feasibly be subjected to regulation through the traditional probable cause standard of justification, we may assess the reasonableness of the particular type of search and seizure by examining and balancing the governmental interest justifying the search and the invasion which the search entails. [Citations.]" (Id., conc. opn. at p. 173, 115 Cal.Rptr. 358, 524 P.2d 830. Italics added, fns. and original emphasis omitted.) We perceive no real inconsistency in the two analyses. They both employed a balancing test for reasonableness.

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