Archive for May 26th, 2011

Laws Proposed to Regulate Police Abuse of DUI Roadblocks

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

As readers of this blog know, DUI roadblocks (or to use the more politically correct term, "sobriety checkpoints") were found by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision to be constitutionally permissible.  See Are DUI Roadblocks Unconstitutional?  Although Chief Justice Rehnquist admitted that it was a violation of citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights, he said it was simply a "minor intrusion" and outweighed by government’s interest in reducing drunk driving.  However, the Court said, the "checkpoints" could only be used to detect and apprehend drunk drivers; they could not be used as a pretext for any other purpose.  This was later confirmed by the Court in City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, where roadblocks were being used to find drugs.

Despite the Edmond decision, local governments and law enforcement have increasingly set up roadblocks on the pretext of apprehending drunk drivers — but in reality using them as a lucrative revenue source to give citations and impound cars.  It is common to see "sobriety checkpoints" today which result in perhaps 1 or 2 DUI arrests — and 100 citations and impounds for lack of driver’s licenses, car registration, equipment violations, etc.  See, for example, DUI Roadblocks for Fun and Profit and The New "Highway Robbery": Money-Making DUI Roadblocks Growing.  

However, some citizens are beginning to object to this abuse of authority…


Santa Rosa Lawmaker Seeks to Regulate DUI Checkpoints

Sacramento, CA.  May 24 – A week after Nora Ramos gave birth by Caesarean section, she found herself walking five miles home with her husband and four children.
On their way from the hospital in Modesto, the family had been stopped at a DUI checkpoint. Ramos’ husband, who had been driving because his wife was dizzy from morphine, did not have a license, and police impounded their car.

That was four years ago. Today, Ramos is joining civil liberties groups and those advocating for minority rights, who say dozens of sobriety checkpoints throughout California have been used to generate impoundment fees rather than arrest drunken drivers.

They support a proposed law from Democratic state Assemblyman Michael Allen that aims to restrict the inspections to their intended purpose of stopping drunken driving.

"Yes, I understand, if they are drunk drivers, grab them, throw them in jail," said Ramos, who is 33. "But what about people who have nothing to do with that?"

Allen, from Santa Rosa, said cities and police have strayed from the original mission of checkpoints, increasingly using them to seize vehicles.
Impoundments increased 53 percent statewide between 2007 and 2009, according to his bill, AB1389. It says that in many cities, the ratio of impoundments to DUI arrests is 20 to 1…

The problem, according to Allen, is that many drivers and their families end up stranded once their vehicles are hauled off. Ultimately, they also forfeit the vehicles because they can’t afford the impoundment fees, which can be thousands of dollars.

That includes Ramos, who says her husband lost his construction job along with the family car.

"The idea that people lose their livelihoods because they can’t have family come help them doesn’t make sense to me," Allen said. "It seems cruel and heartless."

Zanipatin’s group, which is among more than 20 that officially back Allen’s bill, said cities and police misuse the checkpoints to make money.

"It’s a way for them to generate revenue, easy revenue that goes unchallenged," Zanipatin said…

Allen’s bill also would codify another court ruling, this one in California. Decided in 1987, the state Supreme Court case requires officers to conduct their checkpoints on roads that already have a high rate of DUI arrests or accidents, and then give advance notice of the location…


Hmmmm….I’m trying to imagine politicians giving up these roadblock "cash cows".
 

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