Monthly Archives: February 2010

Money-Making DUI Roadblocks Growing

I’ve commented repeatedly in the past about how DUI roadblocks (MADD prefers the less oppressive term "sobriety checkpoints") are inefficient at apprehending drunk drivers.  See Do DUI Roadblocks Work?Do DUI Roadblocks Work (Part II),  As a means of apprehending drunk drivers, even law enforcement admits they are only effective as a deterrent — i.e., keeping people off the streets.  See DUI Logic: Roadblocks Effective – Because They’re Inefective, Purpose of DUI Roadblocks: "Shock and Awe".

So why are cops using more and more DUI roadblocks?  Simple:  They are goldmines.  See DUI: Government’s Cash Cow, What if the Cash Cow Goes Dry? and How to Make a Million in the DUI Business.

A quick refresher:

1.  It is illegal to stop a citizen without probable cause to believe they have violated the law.

2. A roadblock constitutes a stop without probable cause.

3.  The US. Supreme Court ruled in Michigan v. Sitz that although a DUI roadblock does constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment, the governmentalal interest in reducing drunk driving fatalities outweighs the "minimal intrusion" into a citizen’s constitutional rights. 

4.  Under the decision, roadblocks can only be for the purpose of arresting drunk drivers.  However, as with any investigative detention, if the officer finds other violations of law during the roadblock stop, he does not have to ignore them.

So…A cop can’t stop you to check for registration or license, possible equipment violations, open containers, seat belt checks, etc.  But if they throw up a DUI roadblock, they can screen hundreds of drivers for anything they can find.  Result:  citations, arrests, impounded vehicles — and an invaluable source of revenue for local governments.  See, for example, DUI Roadblock: 1131 Stops, 114 Tickets, 0 DUI Arrests, Another "Successful" DUI Roadblock: 3000 Drivers Stopped, 0 DUIs.

The following is a story from yesterday’s news by investigative reporter Ryan Gabrielson, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting:   

California Cops Exploit DUI Checkpoints to

Bring in Money for Cities, Police

California police are turning DUI checkpoints into profitable operations that are far more likely to seize cars from unlicensed minority motorists than catch drunken drivers.

Berkeley, CA. Feb. 13 – An investigation by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley with California Watch has found that impounds at checkpoints in 2009 generated an estimated $40 million in towing fees and police fines – revenue that cities divide with towing firms.

Additionally, police officers received about $30 million in overtime pay for the DUI crackdowns, funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety…

In the course of its examination, the Investigative Reporting Program reviewed hundreds of pages of city financial records and police reports, and analyzed data documenting the results from every checkpoint that received state funding during the past two years. Among the findings:

• Sobriety checkpoints frequently screen traffic within, or near, Hispanic neighborhoods. Cities where Hispanics represent a majority of the population are seizing cars at three times the rate of cities with small minority populations. In South Gate, a Los Angeles County city where Hispanics make up 92 percent of the population, police confiscated an average of 86 vehicles per operation last fiscal year. 

• The seizures appear to defy a 2005 federal appellate court ruling that determined police cannot impound cars solely because the driver is unlicensed. In fact, police across the state have ratcheted up vehicle seizures. Last year, officers impounded more than 24,000 cars and trucks at checkpoints. That total is roughly seven times higher than the 3,200 drunken driving arrests at roadway operations. The percentage of vehicle seizures has increased 53 percent statewide compared to 2007.  

• Departments frequently overstaff checkpoints with officers, all earning overtime. The Moreno Valley Police Department in Riverside County averaged 38 officers at each operation last year, six times more than federal guidelines say is required. Nearly 50 other local police and sheriff’s departments averaged 20 or more officers per checkpoint – operations that averaged three DUI arrests a night…

With support from groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, California more than doubled its use of sobriety checkpoints the past three years.

State officials have declared that 2010 will be the “year of the checkpoint.” Police are scheduling 2,500 of the operations in every region of California. Some departments have begun to broaden the definition of sobriety checkpoints to include checking for unlicensed drivers…

It’s probably just a coincidence that California, on the verge of bankruptcy, has decided to make this the "year of the checkpoint".

(Thanks to David Baker.)

Red Bull and Driving Don’t Mix

A recent university study confirms earlier research indicating that consuming energy drinks while drinking alcohol can reduce the symptoms and sensations of intoxication from the alcohol.

Study Links Alcoholic Energy Drinks to Intoxication, Drunk Driving

Feb. 11 — Bar patrons who consumed energy drinks mixed with alcohol were three times more likely to leave drunk and four times more willing to drive drunk compared to patrons who drank alcohol alone, according to researchers who surveyed college-aged drinkers as they left bars.

The University of Florida researchers surveyed more than 800 bar patrons at random between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., and also collected breath samples to test blood-alcohol content (BAC). The average BAC for alcoholic energy drink consumers was 0.109 percent, well above the legal standard for intoxication.

Patrons who consumed alcohol mixed with highly caffeinated energy drinks like Red Bull also were more likely to have consumed alcohol for longer periods of time, and left bars later than other drinkers.

The study was led by Dennis Thombs of the school’s College of Public Health and Health Professions. "His approach is unique because it was conducted in a natural drinking environment — college bars," said Wake University’s Mary Claire O’Brien, author of previous research on alcoholic energy drinks. "His results clearly support the serious concern raised by previous research, that subjective drunkenness may be reduced by the concurrent ingestion of caffeinated energy drinks, increasing both the likelihood of further alcohol consumption, and of driving when intoxicated."

Friends don’t let friends drive wired.

Latest Breathalyzer Proves No More Reliable Than Others

As readers of this blog are aware, one of my pet peeves is the public’s blind trust in the little metal boxes that analyze a DUI suspect’s breath and spit out a number that supposedly represents the amount of alcohol in his blood.  The simple, scientifically proven fact is that all the various models of these so-called “breathalyzers” are both inaccurate and unreliable.  See, for example, How Breathalyzers Work (and Why They Don’t).

Ask yourself:  If these machines are so trustworthy, why do all the manufacturers keep coming out with new, “improved” versions?  See “State of the Art” Breathalyzers: A History

One of the latest “improved” models is the Intoxilyzer 8000, manufactured by one of the biggest companies in the field, CMI, Inc., of Owensboro, Kentucky.  CMI has previously produced two of the most popular machines (in different versions tailored for local law enforcement preferences) — the Intoxilyzer 4011 and the Intoxilyzer 5000. 

So how good is this latest, “state-of-the-art” model? 

$7 Million DUI Tests Little Used

Columbus, OH.  Feb. 7 — In the nine months since state officials unveiled a new device hailed as a potent new weapon against drunken driving, the equipment has been used rarely and only in a few rural and suburban pockets of Ohio.

A federal grant provided $7 million to buy 710 portable breath testers in December 2008 despite warnings from attorneys, local judges and some scientists that the machines were unreliable and vulnerable to legal challenges.

The Intoxilyzer 8000 made its debut in Clermont County in May. Since then, the instrument has been used just 1,116 times, in five counties that, combined, have only 3 percent of Ohio’s population. Officials could not say how many drunken-driving convictions have resulted from the use of the instrument.

Priced at about $9,000 each, the Intoxilyzer 8000 is supposed to be a big step forward in efforts by police to take drunken drivers off the road…

Lawyers in several other states have been able to get thousands of convictions thrown out based on the refusal of the Intoxilyzer manufacturer, CMI Inc. of Kentucky, to turn over details of the machine’s operations.

But Fairfield driver Lindsey Fintak and other Ohio drunken-driving suspects apparently won’t be able to challenge Intoxilyzer results on that basis. A 1984 Ohio Supreme Court decision barred defendants from attacking the reliability of breath testers once they’ve been certified for use by the state Health Department…

So why are the manufacturers — including CMI — refusing to let anyone (even prosecutors and judges) look into the software that drives these machines?  In the one case where the manufacturer (Draeger) obeyed a court order — from the New Jersey Supreme Court — the machine involved (AlcoTest 7110) was found to use antiquated software that failed to meet even the most basic governmental and industrial standards.  See Secret Breathalyzer Software Finally Revealed

So how accurate and reliable are these machines that are used in court to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?  Put simply, “Close enough for government work”.

Finally, ask yourself:  When these machines constitute the sole evidence of an accused citizen’s blood-alcohol level, why are defense attorneys in Ohio not permitted to question their reliability in trial?

More False Blood-Alcohol Tests

I wrote a couple of months ago about a growing number of false blood-alcohol tests that had been discovered in the Colorado Springs Metro Crime Lab.  At the time, about 1,000 tests were suspect, of which 82 had been confirmed as being falsely high.  See Hundreds in Denver Possibly Convicted with Falsely High Blood Tests.  The number of those falsely convicted continues to grow, with no end in sight….

Audit : Number of Inflated DUI Tests Has Doubled

Colorado Springs, CO.  Jan. 30 - The number of flawed blood alcohol tests has doubled since a Colorado Springs Police Crime Lab internal audit last year discovered that some results were inflated, authorities said last week.

Results in 167 DUI cases have been called into question, up from the initial 82 that were disclosed in December, according to 4th Judicial District Senior Deputy District Attorney Frederick Stein.

Stein could not say yet what the impact of the erroneous tests would be on the criminal cases involved, but added that the DA’s office hopes have a report compiling those outcomes within the next two weeks.

On Dec. 11, the police department reported that a routine audit had discovered the errors and began both an internal and external investigation into how reported test results came in higher than the actual level.

At the time, the department started re-testing about 1,000 blood alcohol test results taken since January 2009…

The Colorado Bureau of Investigations is conducting the external investigation while the police department conducts its own internal review. Both of those investigations are ongoing, police spokesman Lt. David Whitlock said Friday.

“I can’t say anything definitive about the underlying cause,” Whitlock said.

In January, the police department also disclosed that a refrigerator that held DNA evidence had malfunctioned over a four-day period in December. Police, however, said experts did not believe the 235 samples of blood, semen and urine had been rendered unusable by the accident…

(Note: if blood specimens aren’t refrigerated, they will ferment — causing alcohol to be produced in the blood samples.)

So…167 DUI convictions based on false test results and rising — in just one city during one year.  How many similar errors have gone undetected or unreported in other cities during that one year alone?  How many tens of thousands of citizens across the country have been convicted of drunk driving based upon similar false evidence?

(Thanks to Jeanne Pruett.)

Guarding the Guardians

In the "Who will guard the guardians?" department…

Activists want penalties for cops who protect colleagues who drive drunk

Tuckahoe, NJ.  Jan. 20 — Reacting to a Journal News report in which 10 local police officers admitted anonymously that cops often give other cops a break when they are found driving drunk, (Tuckahoe Police Chief) Costanzo and others said no slack should be granted in DWI cases.

Carol Sears, president of the Westchester chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, called the report "very disturbing."

"These are the people who are supposed to be protecting all of us," she said. "We put our trust in them to keep drunk drivers off the road, and it turns out that when they’re the drunk drivers, they’re being protected by other police officers."…

The issue comes in the wake of the arrests of White Plains Officer Joe Zepeda, Westchester Officer Joseph Kraus, Dobbs Ferry Officer Michael Huffman and county Correction Officer Patricia Yancy-Johnson on misdemeanor DWI charges following accidents within a three-week period. All four, who were off duty, refused to submit to chemical tests to determine blood-alcohol levels.

Sears said any officer who covers up for another officer should be brought up on charges.

"I’d like to see some agency or entity investigate this whole ‘blue wall of silence’ thing," she said.

Welcome to the real world, Miss Sears.  To add to your enlightenment, see a few of my earlier posts, such as Who Will Guard the Guardians?, The DUI Double Standard, The DUI Double Standard II and Who Guards the Guardians?.

(Thanks to Lance Mixon.)