Category Archives: Sobriety Checkpoints
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.)
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".
DUI Sobriety Checkpoints: The Slippery Slope
In a number of previous posts I’ve discussed the dubious efficacy, statistics and constitutionality of DUI roadblocks, aka "sobriety checkpoints". However, I’ve only briefly mentioned the potential for abusing the right to set up these roadblocks — the potential for government to use them as a pretext to violate citizen’s rights. Consider the following story from yesterday’s Washington Post:
Safety Stops Draw Doubts
D.C. Police Gather Nonviolators’ Data
Lisa Davis had done nothing wrong. She was wearing a seat belt, was obeying the speed limit and produced a valid driver’s license when D.C. police pulled her over one recent night at a traffic safety checkpoint in a crime-plagued neighborhood.
Even so, an officer jotted down some basic information before letting her go, including her name, address and the time and location of the stop for a police database used for crime solving.
"I’ve got some serious constitutional issues with that," Davis said as she sat in her idling Acura at the checkpoint at Kansas Avenue and Shepherd Street NW in the Petworth neighborhood. "I feel like it’s a violation of my rights. It’s a slippery slope to Big Brother."
The details about Davis and the stop will be fed into the database, which is linked to a computer that includes arrest records and mug shots of criminals….
Civil liberties advocates aren’t the only ones questioning the practice. The policy is sparking concern among some officers who conduct the checkpoint stops, most of which are made in areas where crime, not traffic safety, is the primary concern.
"That’s an invasion of privacy, demanding information from a citizen and putting that in a database," said Officer Gregory I. Green of D.C. police, who is assigned to represent the police union….
The officers jot down motorists’ information on a file-card-size form called a PD-76, which is recorded into the database. The forms also are used for routine traffic stops, and the information will also be used for a racial profiling study, (D.C. Police Chief Charles) Ramsey said.
D.C. homicide Detective Paul Regan said the collection of such data has been "a great intelligence tool".
In the 6-3 United States Supreme Court case holding that DUI checkpoints were permissible, Justice Rehnquist admitted that the stops constituted "seizures" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. However, he said, this was justified because "No one can seriously dispute the magnitude of the drunken driving problem or the States’ interest in eradicating it."
Would the Court would have ruled as it did had the justices known what these supposed "sobriety checkpoints" would eventually become?
(Thanks to Steve Oberman of Knoxville, TN.)
Do DUI Roadblocks Work?
For many years now, MADD has focused much of its considerable manpower (over 600 chapters), resources (revenues of $48 million a year) and political influence on the proliferation of DUI roadblocks (or, to use the politically correct phrase, "sobriety checkpoints"). To justify this invasion of our privacy, we have been repeatedly assured that "checkpoints" are extremely effective in reducing alcohol-related traffic fatalities — and these assurances have been accompanied by "statistics". Let's take a closer look at the statistics….
According to MADD's own website, 40 states have checkpoints and 10 do not. Well, it would be interesting to compare the states with the highest percentage of alcohol-related fatalities with the list of states not using checkpoints: If MADD is correct, the states with the highest fatality rates will be the no-roadblock states. Fortunately, another section of MADD's website provides such statistics for each of the states. The 5 states with the highest alcohol-related fatality rates:
According to MADD, all 5 states should be non-checkpoint states. In fact, however, 4 of these states use checkpoints; only Rhode Island does not. Well, what about the 5 states with the lowest fatality percentages? They are:
If MADD is correct about the effectiveness of checkpoints, these should all be checkpoint states. But as with the previous list, only 4 of the states permit the use of sobriety checkpoints; Iowa does not. As with the previous list, the percentage is what one would expect from pure random incidence: 20% of the states (10 of 50) do not have checkpoints — and 20% of the states on each list (1 of 5) do not use checkpoints. There appears to be no correlation between fatality rates and the use of checkpoints.
Let's take a look at another set of statistics: the effect of the proliferation of checkpoints on the national rate of alcohol-related fatalities. If checkpoints are effective, we would expect to find that alcohol-related fatalities will have declined since their widespread acceptance in recent years .
Again, the statistics do not support this. To use MADD's own numbers: Since 1982, the number of fatalities nationwide from alcohol-related crashes has declined every year — until about 1993, when it dropped to 17,908. Perhaps coincidentally, this was the year after the United States Supreme Court ruled that sobriety checkpoints were not unconstitutional. In the 10 years since then, sobriety checkpoints have gained widespead acceptance — but the number of fatalities have levelled off, vacilating between 17,908 and 17,013. Far from supporting MADD's position, one could even argue that this proves sobriety checkpoints have actually halted the steady decline in alcohol-related deaths. This would probably be incorrect — but indicative of how statistics can be used to serve a desired objective.
Incidentally, my favorite example of distorting statistics for self-serving purposes is MADD's own oft-repeated claim:
Since MADD's founding in 1980, alcohol-related fatalities have decreased 44 percent (from 30,429 to 17,013) and MADD has helped save almost 300,000 lives.
300,000? Do the math….