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Are Undercover Operations Legal?

Many people think it’s deceptive for police to disguise themselves as citizens, hang out in bars while on duty, and arrest drunk drivers. Similar to what the vice squad does, undercover police can head to the bars on a Friday or Saturday night and monitor people inside, watching as they consume alcohol.

Then, the officer quietly follows the unsuspecting bar patron out of the establishment as they walk towards their vehicles, keys in hand. If someone appears heavily intoxicated, the undercover officer can make a DUI arrest if the person in the car registers .08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or more on a breath test.

Bar Patrons Arrested by Undercover Cops

These law enforcement officers tend to arrest frustrated individuals who don’t believe that undercover cops should be laying traps at bars. The DUI suspect feels duped, especially when he or she spent part of the evening “chatting up” the undercover cop.

Yet, the California Highway Patrol stands by this surreptitious method of apprehension, arguing that its investigators have every right to conduct routine undercover operations. California drivers don’t necessarily agree, they generally prefer the police to be out in the open, where they can be detected!

In the past, law enforcement officers have dressed as fast-food workers at 24-hour drive-thrus and arrested drunk drivers who put in their late-night orders and drove up to the window. They’ve also set up operations at bars, restaurants, clubs, and anywhere else where alcohol is served.

The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control can set up these secret operations. But, they must show that the licensed premises was the “place of last drink” for a DUI suspect to build a solid case.

Arrested by an undercover officer?

If you’ve been arrested in an undercover DUI operation, you should take your case to court. While most undercover operations are legal, there may be times an arrest isn’t warranted. For example, if the police were not told to disguise themselves and hide out at a bar by the Department, you may have a valid defense.

Also, whether in uniform or not, police must arrest their suspects with a code of conduct. If you were arrested with unnecessary force, or the police didn’t follow proper protocol, you may be able to argue against this as well.

Talk to an Orange County DUI attorney from the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. to explore your defense strategy after an undercover DUI arrest!