Sobriety Checkpoints for Fun and Profit

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on May 11th, 2005

In recent posts, I’ve talked about how DUI roadblocks were ineffective and were increasingly being abused for such purposes as gathering information on citizens. According to a KCRA-TV news story yesterday from Sacramento, DUI roadblocks are now being used mainly to make money for local government:

KCRA Investigates: DUI Checkpoints

Checkpoints Being Used To Enforce Other Laws

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For years, DUI checkpoints have proven an effective way to catch drunken drivers and prevent others from getting behind the wheel, but what some police agencies are now using those checkpoints for and who is being targeted is sparking a growing controversy. The concern is that police are not only using the checkpoints as a way to enforce other laws but also as a way to make money — especially since cities such as Sacramento make $70 every time they impound a car at a DUI checkpoint, even if that car’s driver was not suspected of drinking and driving.

Aturo Torres said he was pulled over at a recent DUI checkpoint on Broadway in Sacramento, his pickup truck was impounded and all of his belongings moved to the curb, and yet, Torres said, he had not had a single drop of alcohol to drink that night.

KCRA 3 Investigates found that what happened to Torres is becoming so common that a growing number of lawmakers and immigrant rights groups are up in arms.

At issue is whether police agencies are misusing taxpayer money by using state DUI grant money as an opportunity to crack down on a host of other laws…. "It’s misrepresentation. It’s almost a fraudulent use of resources," state Sen. Gilbert Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, said.

KCRA 3 Investigates found that some DUI checkpoints are becoming so large in scale that they involve dozens of officers cracking down on everything from felonies to driving without a license.

Records show that at the Sacramento Police Department’s last five DUI checkpoints, officers arrested 22 suspected drunken drivers. But they also wrote 315 citations and impounded 259 vehicles belonging to people arrested for driving without a license or driving on a suspended license…. Sacramento’s police chief defends the use of DUI checkpoints beyond the bounds of just cracking down on suspected drunken drivers….

Adding another layer of controversy is that many of those caught in DUI checkpoints are undocumented immigrants. Immigrant rights groups say current law does not allow these people the chance to get a license legally and many can’t afford to pay the $1,000 it takes when police impound their cars for not having a license.

Just a reminder: the United States Supreme Court recognized that DUI roadblocks constituted a stop and search without probable cause, in apparent violation of the Fourth Amendment. However, the Court chose to permit the practice — but only because the intrusion on citizens’ privacy was outweighed by the "grave and legitimate interest in curbing drunken driving".

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