Category Archives: DUI Law

DUI Roadblocks Act as Deterrents, But…Don’t Tell Anyone

I’ve posted repeatedly that DUI roadblocks, aka "sobriety checkpoints", are ineffective at apprehending drunk drivers.  See, for example, Do DUI Roadblocks Work? and Do DUI Roadblocks Work? (part 2).  Faced with irrefutable facts, police agencies simply switch horses and say that they are effective as deterrents.  In other words, "Ok, they don’t work but they scare people". See Purpose of DUI Roadblocks: "Shock and Awe" and OK, DUI Roadblocks Are Illegal and Don’t Work, But… 

So why do they get upset when others publicize roadblock locations?

Apps Alert Drivers to DUI Checkpoints

Washington, D.C.  Dec. 16 — Modern technology is turning the table on cops. Drivers can now get instant warnings on their cell phone or GPS when a DUI checkpoint is near. That has police outraged and worried that drunk drivers could use it to escape arrest…

In Montgomery County, Maryland, police sometimes announce DUI checkpoints without exact locations. Police say having that information out there could endanger everyone on the road.

"If that were to occur, it could cause someone to go ahead and drink and drive because they think they’ve got a free pass," said Captain Paul Starks of the Montgomery Count Police Department.

"If you know there’s a crackdown for DUI, then you’re most likely not going to do it," said Jonathan Milman, the co-creator of (Iphone app) Buzzed. "And that’s where our cab feature comes in."

Still, there’s no preventing people from using the checkpoint alerts to get away with driving drunk. But the point, both companies say, is to deter drunk driving in the first place.

"Why do people put a home security sign in front of their house? It’s to stop the burglar from coming in, in the first place," Milman said. "That’s the purpose of DUI checkpoints. It’s to stop people from driving drunk in the first place."

"We’re not blowing their cover, not undercutting their efforts," said Scott. "Actually we’re enhancing it."

They invite police to team up with them by providing checkpoint locations directly. Don’t expect Montgomery County to sign on.

"I don’t know that we’re going to ever be interested in letting people know exactly where our DUI checkpoints are," said Starks.

Incidentally, when the U.S. Supreme Court permitted DUI roadblocks despite the fact that they’re a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, they also said that certain safeguards must be used — including advance publicity warning the public of roadblock locations.  See Michigan v. Sitz.  Of course, police have become very adept at "publicizing" the roadblocks on the back pages of throw-away publications no one reads — or, as in Montgomery County, simply keeping the locations secret.

DUI Roadblock: 1131 Stops, 114 Tickets, 0 DUI Arrests

While MADD continues to praise the efficacy of DUI roadblocks (aka "sobriety checkpoints"), most experts have come to recognize that they are simply ineffective at apprehending drunk drivers.  See Do DUI  Roadblocks Work? and Do DUI Roadblocks Work? (Part II).  But as I’ve written in earlier posts, local government has awakened to the fact that they are very effective at one thing:  raising desperately needed money.   See DUI: Government’s Cash Cow, How to Make a Million in the DUI Business and What if the Cash Cow Goes Dry?.     

It is, of course, normally a violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment to set up roadblocks to issue tickets for outdated registration, equipment defects, outstanding warrants, etc.  But the Supreme Court carved out one exception to the 4th Amendment: roadblocks to catch drunk drivers.  And, well, if in the process the cops find no proof of insurance or an expired license, then those are "incidental" to the purpose of the roadblock and therefore permitted.

Problem:  "sobriety checkpoints" have simply become subterfuges for issuing income-generating tickets.  See for example, Another "Successful" DUI Roadblock: 3000 Drivers Stopped, 0 DUIs in which there were 177 citations, 84 vehicle impounds — and no DUI arrests.   The following recent news story is typical:

DUI Checkpoint Stops 1,131 Vehicles

Gaineseville, FL.  July 6  – DUI checkpoint over the holiday weekend resulted in 10 people being arrested and more than 100 drivers being issued traffic citations.

The Florida Highway Patrol arranged for the checkpoint to be set up in the 2500 block of Southwest 13th Street in Gainesville between 10 p. m. Friday until 2 a.m. Saturday. FHP Lt. Pat Riordan said that during that time, 1,131 vehicles were checked.

"We conduct these checkpoints to enforce and to educate," Riordan said. "It’s a way for us to bring the public’s attention to things like faulty equipment they need to fix as well as being a way for us to get people out from behind the wheel who do not belong there."

Although no one was arrested for DUI, FHP said the following actions were taken during the checkpoint:

–Two arrested on outstanding warrants.

– Seven arrested on felony charges, including six on drug-related charges.

– One arrested for misdemeanor drugs.

– 104 traffic citations issued.

– 10 faulty equipment warnings were issued.

Repeat: the Supreme Court made a roadblock exception to the Constitution for one limited purpose only:  apprehending drunk drivers – not "to educate", not "as  a way for us to bring the public’s attention to things like faulty equipment".

Once you start whittling away at the Constitution, it’s kind of hard to stop….

Here Come the Feds (cont’d): Marines at DUI Roadblocks

I’ve posted in the past about the increasing federalization of drunk driving laws and law enforcement procedures.  See Here Come the Feds and The Future of DUI.  But even I wasn’t ready for the latest development…

The U.S. Marines have landed…and are apparently manning “sobriety checkpoints” in San Bernardino County in California.  Yes, Marines.  Yes, civilian DUI roadblocks. 

From an official December 10th California Highway Patrol public relations release:

CHP to Conduct Sobriety/Driver’s License Checkpoint

The Morongo office of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in conjunction with the  San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department and the USMC military police will conduct a joint sobriety/driver license checkpoint on Friday, December 12, 2008, somewhere in the unincorporated/incorporated area of San Bernardino County.

As an American citizen, not to mention a former Marine, I find this troubling — particularly in view of the clear wording of the Posse Comitatus act of 1878, described in Wikipedia:

The Posse Comitatus Act is a  United States federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1385) passed on June 16, 1878, after the end of Reconstruction. The Act prohibits most members of the federal uniformed services  (the Army, Air Force and State national Guard forces (when such are called into federal service) from exercising nominally state law enforcement, police or peace officer powers that maintain “law and order” on non-federal property (states and their counties and municipal divisions) in the former Confederate states.

The statute generally prohibits federal military personnel and units of the National Guard under federal authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States, except where expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress. The Coast Guard is exempt from the Act.

A follow-up call to a Marine Corps public affairs sergeant resulted in assurances that the Marines would be there “as observers”.   Hmmmm…..military observers.  Isn’t that how it all starts?

Thanks to Branson Hunter and Andre.

DUI Roadblocks: Is the Public Finally Starting to Get It?

For years, MADD has loudly and widely extolled the virtues of "sobriety checkpoints" – despite clear evidence to the contrary.   See, e.g., my posts Do Roadblocks Work?, Do Roadblocks Work? (Part II), and DUI Logic: Roadblocks Effective Because They’re Ineffective.   Now, finally, there may be a glimmer of light out there.  Consider the following guest OpEd published yesterday in Louisiana:

Roadblocks Not Best Way to Curtail Drunk Driving

Thanksgiving kicked off the holiday season and its accompanying festivities. Families and friends will get together and chances are high that most adults will celebrate with a beverage or two. Local governments will be taking some extra precautions to keep our roads safe.

These heightened traffic safety programs, unfortunately, fall short of expectations year after year. Alcohol-related fatalities have been reduced by over 30 percent since 1982 — no thanks to sobriety checkpoints, one of the most popular traffic programs in the last decade (during which fatality numbers have completely leveled off). It is a policy which all but 11 states still cling to despite its obvious reliance on emotion instead of effectiveness.

These roadblocks will be among the many long lines that Louisianians will find themselves waiting in during the coming weeks of the holiday season. Still buried among the news stories about holiday shopping and the economy, plenty of articles will appear in local newspapers under headlines like: "No Drunk Drivers Caught At Sobriety Checkpoint." Such headlines appeared in newspapers across the country last holiday season. Countless counties also stopped hundreds of vehicles and made only one or two arrests. Since these checkpoints are highly visible by design and publicized in advance, it’s almost surprising that they manage to make any arrests at all. How can placing a group of officers at a single location and waiting for drunk drivers to come to them be the best approach to traffic safety improvement? The allegiance to these programs by so many state governments can’t be explained by a lack of better options. Roving police patrols or saturation patrols are clearly more effective. They arrest up to 10 times as many drunk drivers as checkpoints by patrolling the highways and looking for dangerous drivers…

Policymakers had good reason to give these checkpoint programs a chance. But the reality is that checkpoints aren’t further shrinking the much-diminished drunk driving problem. Why should we funnel limited resources away from measures that are proven to achieve the same goal more effectively? With a dozen or more officers, special equipment and printed materials, roadblocks cost taxpayers a whopping average of around $8,000 each. A typical saturation patrol with two officers runs about $300. Proponents are going to be working harder to justify the lack of return on these substantial investments of taxpayer money. But try not to be distracted by their emotional appeals. Checkpoint advocates, led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, have a lot more in mind for these roadblocks than traffic safety.

MADD defends checkpoint programs so aggressively because it is dedicated to minimizing alcohol consumption, not simply ensuring it is consumed responsibly. This is why the group has publicly advocated putting ignition interlocks (in-car breathalyzers) in every car as a safety feature, like seat belts. Over the next several weeks, MADD’s campaigns will be dedicated to making sure that Americans feel sufficiently guilty about consuming any spiked eggnog whatsoever prior to driving.

No one is against taking extra steps to make the roads safer during the holidays. But there is little evidence to suggest that checkpoints are the smartest way to do that. Now more than ever, it is important to make sure our resources are being spent effectively. Be safe on the roads this holiday season as always. But remember that the coming weeks are especially appropriate for reexamining our most misguided alcohol policies.

Facts have an irritating way of eventually rising to the surface.


Another “Successful” DUI Roadblock: 3000 Drivers Stopped, 0 DUIs

I’ve railed long and hard in past posts about the unconstitutionality of DUI roadblocks ("sobriety checkpoints") — as well as about their ineffectiveness and growing abuse.  See, e.g., Do Roadblocks Work?, Do Roadblocks Work? (Part II), DUI Logic: Roadblocks Effective Because They’re Ineffective, Police Using DUI Roadblocks Illegally, Purpose of DUI Roadblocks: "Shock and Awe" and DUI Roadblocks for Fun and Profit

Just another recent example here in California:

DUI Checkpoint Finds Many Unlicensed Drivers, But No Drunks

Bakersfield, CA –  Bakersfield police impounded 84 vehicles at a DUI checkpoint Friday night in the 4600 block of Stockdale Highway. The Traffic Enforcement Detail says the event is an effort to reduce the number of people killed each year in DUI related collisions, as well as insuring motorists on city streets are in possession of a valid driver’s license.

The checkpoint was set up at the intersection of Stockdale Highway and Montclair Street around 5 p.m. Friday and taken down at 1 a.m. Saturday. Nearly 3,000 vehicles were screened by officers, resulting in 32 citations for driving on a suspended or revoked license; 53 for driving without a valid license and 32 motorists were cited for miscellaneous vehicle code violations.

Another effective roadblock:  117 citations and 84 vehicle impounds –  worth a bucket of fines to the local city treasury.  Drunk drivers?  Who cares.

Oh, and by the way, the Supreme Court carved out an exception to the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment  for roadblocks — but only for apprehending drunk drivers, not for "insuring motorists on city streets are in possession of a valid driver’s license".