Monthly Archives: May 2005

The Scarlet Letters

In the opening of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter, a young woman who has been convicted of adultery is led through the streets of colonial Salem, a scarlet letter "A" pinned to her chest. The townspeople watch approvingly, gossiping and enjoying her humiliation.

Fast forward to January 1, 2004….Encouraged by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Ohio legislature enacted a new law requiring any person convicted of drunk driving to display special bright yellow license plates with bright red numbers and letters on any vehicles they own or drive. 

The law made no exception for other members of the family who drove the vehicles. The wife who drove the kids to a soccer game did so with the scarlet letters branded on the front and back of her car.  

What have become known as "scarlet letter plates" or "shame plates" have created other consequences as well:

Ever since I’ve put the yellow plates on my car I have gotten pulled over on the way to work/school at least a dozen times just for "suspicion", and my car has been damaged by rocks and bricks that have been thrown at my car. I’ve filed police reports for the incidents in which my car was damaged and nothing has been done to resolve the problem. My insurance pays for the damage but I still have a $500 deductible which I’ve had to pay for twice now. I’m tired of people that say I "deserve" it because I have a DUI. I didn’t kill anyone, I didn’t hurt anyone, no cars were hit and nothing was damaged. I don’t deserve to be pulled over today for something that happened months ago. I don’t deserve to have rocks and bricks thrown at my car. I don’t deserve to be publicly humiliated…

The new law initially applied to all individuals convicted of DUI. However, the inclusion of first-time offenders caused widespread criticism and the law was later amended to apply only to multiple offenders and first offenders with blood alcohol levels of .17%  or higher.

Ohio isn’t the only state requiring "shame" plates for those convicted of DUI. Minnesota and Georgia also issue the plates, but ones not as dramatically different as those issued by Ohio.  Urged on by MADD, California, Virginia and other states have considered legislation authorizing them — including Arizona, where a bill requiring fluorescent green plates made it to the floor of the State Senate in 2004.

Roadblocks for Fun and Profit (Continued)

In recent days I've talked about how DUI roadblocks (or to use the more politically correct term, "sobriety checkpoints") are ineffective and violate the Fourth Amendment but have nevertheless been authorized by the U.S. Supreme Court because the intrusion on citizens' privacy was outweighed by the "grave and legitimate interest in curbing drunken driving". And I pointed out that, inevitably, law enforcement was increasingly abusing the procedure to gather information about citizens, conduct dragnets for non-DUI offenses and raise money for local government.

In the following news story about a weekend "sobriety checkpoint" in North Carolina, notice the emphasis in the opening paragraph on the minimal arrests for DUI — and the real objective as evidenced by the list of total arrests in the last paragraph:

Area law enforcement officers levied charges against drunk driving suspects Friday at a checkpoint at the intersection of North Raleigh Street and Meadowbrook Road.

Rocky Mount police said two vehicles were seized from drivers charged at the checkpoint during a joint effort with area law enforcement agencies….

Arrests resulting from the checkpoint included the following charges: Driving while intoxicated, three; alcoholic beverage control violations, three; driving while license revoked, four; no operator's license, five; fail to carry license, three; seat belt violation, one; expired license plate, three; no insurance, one; unauthorized use of motor vehicle, one; misdemeanor possession of marijuana, one; possession with intent to sell/deliver marijuana (felony), one; felony maintain a vehicle, one; child restraint violation, six; inspection violation, three; careless and reckless driving, two; felony elude, two; fail to stop for lights and siren, one; outstanding warrants, three; commercial motor vehicle regulatory violation, two; resist, obstruct and delay, two.

(Thanks again to Jeanne Pruett.)

Walking Under the Influence?

The following from WRTA radio in Altoona, PA:

The Blair County DUI Task Force was out in full force over the weekend.  The Pleasant Valley Boulevard checkpoint resulted in the arrest of six drivers suspected of driving under the influence.  One person was arrested for public drunkeness when he walked through the checkpoint. 

(Thanks to Jeanne Pruett, CEO of Responsibility in DUI Laws, Inc.)

Driving a Horse Under the Influence

From WKYT-TV News in Lexington, Kentucky: 

A Pulaski County man faces charges after police say he was riding his horse drunk.

Somerset police arrested 42-year-old Millard Greg Dwyer Sunday night. A state trooper says Dwyer was riding a horse on Borne Avenue when they jumped in front of his cruiser. The trooper says Dwyer was about to fall off the horse….

Dwyer was charged with operating a vehicle other than a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicants.

Apparently, a horse in Kentucky is a non-motorized "vehicle".  

Sobriety Checkpoints for Fun and Profit

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".