Category Archives: DUI Law

A Growing Backlash Against DUI Roadblocks?

Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows how I feel about the efficacy and constitutionality of DUI roadblocks (aka "sobriety checkpoints").  See, for example, Do DUI Roadblocks Work?, Do DUI Roadblocks Work? (Part II), DUI Logic: Roadblocks Effective Because They're Ineffective, and Are DUI Roadblocks Constitutional?.  

Recently, I've read some news articles and editorials that lead me to believe there is a growing backlash against these police-state procedures.  The following is from the Editorial Board of  the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Opinion: Cops Detain 1,407 Innocent Drivers

Colorado Springs, CO.  Sept. 6 – Colorado Springs police detained 1,420 drivers last Saturday in yet another ineffective effort to catch drunken drivers. As a result of detaining thousands of drivers and countless passengers, police cited eight — a whopping .56 percent — on suspicion they had driven under the influence. Meanwhile, cops working the checkpoints were not on the roads providing legitimate public safety.

This part is weird: Five others were cited for open containers. Imagine driving through a swarm of police, who are stopping vehicles and looking into them, with an open beer.

Drunk drivers kill. Those who drink, even a little, have no business getting behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle for the rest of the day. Just don’t do it for any reason.

Society needs to eradicate drunken driving, but sobriety checkpoints are not the answer. They violate the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unlawful searches and seizures. They are permissible under the Supreme Court’s 1990 ruling in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, a case in which the majority decided to allow an erosion of liberty to facilitate a compelling interest in reducing fatalities. Checkpoints would be easier to accept if they actually improved public safety.

“The net effect of sobriety checkpoints on traffic safety is infinitesimal and possibly negative,” wrote Justices Paul Stevens, William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall in their Michigan v. Sitz dissent.

Most public safety experts acknowledge that traditional policing, in which officers look for drunken drivers while patrolling, is more effective. Law enforcement brass like checkpoints because they create overtime pay. An investigation by the University California found that checkpoints generate $30 million in annual overtime pay in California alone. Checkpoints, which are funded with transportation grants, are public relations stunts…

Our police are supposed to protect and serve the public, not detain individuals to generate publicity and overtime pay. Please take a pass on future checkpoint grants in Colorado Springs and use traditional methods to catch drunk drivers.

The fact is that most roadblocks are increasingly a means of illegally using DUI roadblocks as an excuse for stopping vehicles to find minor violations such as equipment violations, expired car registrations and drivers licenses not in possession.  See my posts, DUI Roadblock: 1131 Stops, 114 Tickets, 0 DUI Arrests, Another "Successful" DUI Roadblock: 3000 Drivers Stopped, 0 DUIsDUI Roadblocks for Fun and Profit and The True Purpose of DUI Roadblocks

As long as local governments continue to rake in desperately-needed revenues from these fraudulent police practices, "DUI" roadblocks will continue.

Laws Proposed to Regulate Police Abuse of DUI Sobriety Checkpoints

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".

Senators Pressure Apple, Google to Remove DUI Checkpoint Apps

It’s amazing how twisted things can get when politicians want to grab headlines…

Google, Apple Pressed to Remove DUI Checkpoint Apps

PC World.  May 11 – Google and Apple are under pressure from Senator Charles Schumer to remove smartphone apps that alert users to the locations of nearby police DUI checkpoints. These apps typically use your device’s GPS capabilities to alert you to nearby speed traps, red light traffic cameras, and DUI checkpoints from a database of user-generated locations.

Schumer asked Apple and Google to consider whether these apps violate the companies’ respective terms of service by facilitating illegal activity. These apps "endanger public safety by allowing drunk drivers to avoid police checkpoints," Schumer said during a hearing for the new Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy and technology…

Guy Tribble, Apple’s vice president for software technology, also pointed out during the hearing that many police departments across the United States already publicize the locations of DUI checkpoints.

Offering checkpoint apps is "facilitating illegal activity"?  Ok, Senator, here’s a refresher course on the Constitution….

A number of years ago the Michigan Supreme Court held that DUI roadblocks (aka "sobriety checkpoints) were unconstitutional. Such warrantless stops, the court correctly concluded, were a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution since American citizens cannot be stopped in their cars without reasonable suspicion to believe that they had committed a crime.

The United States Supreme Court thereafter reversed the state court. In Michigan v. Sitz, Chief Justice Rehnquist essentially admitted that the stops were violations of citizens’ rights — but found that these were only "minimal" violations. And these minimal intrusions, Rehnquist found, were outweighed by the more important interests of the government in ensuring safety on the highways. However, the Court left to the states the role of determining how to minimize these intrusions.

The first state supreme court decision to define these regulations was Ingersoll v. Palmer. In that landmark case, which has served as a model for other states, the California Supreme Court laid down ways to minimize the intrusions mentioned by the U.S. Supreme Court in Sitz. These procedures specifically included the use by police departments of  "advance publicity":

"Advance publicity is important to the maintenance of a constitutionally permissible sobriety checkpoint. Publicity both reduces the intrusiveness of the stop and increases the deterrent effect of the roadblock.

"The concurring opinion in State ex rel. Ekstrom v. Justice Ct. of State, supra, 663 P.2d 992, at page 1001 explained the value of advance publicity: "Such publicity would warn those using the highways that they might expect to find roadblocks designed to check for sobriety; the warning may well decrease the chance of apprehending ‘ordinary’ criminals, but should certainly have a considerable deterring effect by either dissuading people from taking ‘one more for the road,’ persuading them to drink at home, or inducing them to take taxicabs.

"Any one of these goals, if achieved, would have the salutary effect of interfering with the lethal combination of alcohol and gasoline. Advance notice would limit intrusion upon personal dignity and security because those being stopped would anticipate and understand what was happening." (663 P.2d 992, 1001, conc. opn.Feldman, J.; see also State v. Deskins, supra, 673 P.2d 1174, 1182.) Publicity also serves to establish the legitimacy of sobriety checkpoints in the minds of motorists. Although the court in Jones v. State, supra, 459 So.2d 1068, found that advance publicity was not constitutionally mandated for all sobriety roadblocks, nevertheless the court offered the observation, consistent with finding reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment, that [43 Cal. 3d 1347] "’[A]dvance publication of the date of an intended roadblock, even without announcing its precise location, would have the virtue of reducing surprise, fear, and inconvenience.’ [Citation.]" (Id., at p. 1080.)"

Gee, maybe that’s why, as the Apple V.P. tried to explain to Senator Schumer, "many police departments across the United States already publicize the locations of DUI sobriety checkpoints".

On the other hand, maybe the Senators should subpoena the state supreme court justices and find out why they’re " facilitating illegal activity".

Criticisms of “Sobriety Checkpoints” Growing

I mentioned in a post a couple of days ago that there appeared to be the beginnings of a backlash against DUI roadblocks (aka "sobriety checkpoints").  See Law Proposed to Ban DUI Roadblocks, objecting to them as trappings of a "police state".  Interestingly, the following article appearing a few days earlier also challenged roadblocks — but on the grounds of inefficiency: 

Some Valid Questions About Lodi’s DUI Checkpoints

Lodi, CA.  Apr. 2 – Are DUI checkpoints worth the time and money? Our recent front page story asked that question, and it is a fair one.

Lodi police have been running the checkpoints through a grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety. Lodi gets $102,000 to operate the checkpoints and so-called saturation patrols.

The goal is worthy: Get drunken drivers off the streets of Lodi.

The reality, though, has raised several issues, including:

The checkpoints are expensive, drawing 14 officers, all on overtime, for an estimated cost of $4,400 per checkpoint.

The results are rather unimpressive. The checkpoints have produced an average of 2.8 DUI arrests each — about $1,500 per arrest. (That may be in part because many local bar owners learn quickly of the checkpoints and alert their customers.)

In contrast, the checkpoints have caused many cars to be towed and impounded because their drivers are unlicensed. The average has been 20 cars per checkpoint. Most of these drivers aren’t inebriated, just unlucky. They have to cough up big bucks — one local car owner paid $1,600 — to get their vehicle back. And they have to wait 30 days for that privilege. No doubt some have lost not just a car, but a job. A young car owner told reporter Fernando Gallo that she and her boyfriend had to walk home because the police denied her use of a cell phone to call for a ride after her Honda was towed away. That doesn’t strike us as the most courteous reaction.

So-called saturation patrols are more efficient at catching DUI drivers than checkpoints, but Lodi police have to run the checkpoints as part of the deal with the state safety office.

Is this a well-intended program that’s too expensive and intrusive? Are taxpayers getting their money’s worth with this? Are the checkpoints a sledgehammer slaying flies?

We’ve learned since our story appeared that Lodi police do not, in fact, have to request driver’s licenses of those who go through the checkpoints. Maybe changing that policy is worth exploring. After all, the aim is to arrest intoxicated motorists, not deprive Lodians of their cars, right? The impoundments seem like a sort of collateral damage.

Beyond that, perhaps the traffic safety office should look at shifting resources toward the saturation patrols that Lodi police say are more effective.

Maybe folks are beginning to notice that the Emperor is wearing no clothes…

Law Proposed to Ban DUI Sobriety Checkpoints

As I’ve argued repeatedly in the past, drunk driving roadblocks (MADD and the police prefer the less ominous phrase "sobriety checkpoints") are overly intrusive and ineffective compared to police patrols.  See, for example, Do DUI Roadblocks Work? and Do DUI Roadblocks Work? (Part II).  And — despite a controversial 5-4 Supreme Court decision — they are unconstitutional. See Are Roadblocks Constitutional?  

Their only real benefit is raising large amounts of cash for local municipalities from all the tickets and towed cars from unrelated license, registration and equipment violations (for which roadblocks would be illegal).  See, for example, DUI Roadblocks for Fun and Profit and The New "Highway Robbery": Money-Making DUI Roadblocks Growing.

Recently, however, there appears to be the beginnings of a backlash from a few legislators unafraid of MADD’s political influence.

R.I. Lawmaker: Outlaw DUI Checkpoints, Providence, RI.  Apr  9 – A Rhode Island state lawmaker says drunk-driving checkpoints are unfair and should be banned.

Rep. Charlene Lima, a Cranston Democrat, has introduced a bill in the General Assembly to prohibit police from conducting traffic checkpoints to identify drunk drivers. A legislative panel reviewed the legislation Wednesday.

Lima says she supports laws against drunk driving, but that checkpoints "smack of a police state." She said there’s no reason sober drivers should have to prove to police that they’re not driving drunk.

A voice in the wilderness….