Category Archives: DUI Law

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

wpri.com, 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….
 

U.S. Senators Want Apple to End DUI Checkpoint Apps

Senators are now pressuring Apple and others companies to remove internet applications which warn motorists of drunk driving roadblocks.


Senators Ask Apple, Google, RIM to Pull Checkpoint Apps 

Washington, DC.  March 22
— Four Democratic senators on Tuesday penned a letter to Apple, Google, and Research in Motion to urge the companies to remove apps that provide users with information about DUI checkpoints.

"With more than 10,000 Americans dying in drunk-driving crashes every year, providing access to applications that alert users to DUI checkpoints is harmful to public safety," according to the letter, which was signed by Sens. Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Frank Lautenberg, and Mark Udall.

The senators asked the companies to remove the apps, unless the app creators remove DUI or DWI checkpoint functionality.

"One application contains a database of DUI checkpoints updated in real-time. Another application, with more than 10 million users, also allows users to alert each other to DUI checkpoints in real time," they wrote. "Giving drunk drivers a free tool to evade checkpoints, putting innocent families and children at risk, is a matter of public concern.


How conveniently memories fade….

As I’ve summarized in past posts (see, for example, DUI Sobriety Checkpoints: Unconstitutional?), 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, the California Supreme Court laid down the safeguards mentioned in Sitz.  These mandatory procedures specifically included "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.)
 

Maybe the senators need a crash course in constitutional law….
 

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.)