Undercover DUI Operations in California

group of men holding beers

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 cops can head to the bars any day or night of the week and monitor people inside, watching as they consume alcohol.

Once a cop catches a fish, he or she 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.


Undercover law enforcement officers tend to arrest frustrated individuals who don’t believe that 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 police to be out in the open, where they can be seen and detected!

Law enforcement officers have been quite creative over the years. 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.

“But is this practice legal?” 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.


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.

Contact us today to meet with an Orange County DUI attorney to explore your defense strategy after an undercover DUI arrest!

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