Category Archives: Sobriety Checkpoints
As most of us are aware, this past 3-day St. Patrick's Day weekend was filled with parties, revelry…and DUI sobriety checkpoints. As most of us are also aware, these can be irritating, frightening and/or cause traffic delays.
So, I've been asked repeatedly, is there any way I can find out where checkpoints are going to be held in my town?
Yes. As the U.S. Supreme Court held in the landmark case of Michigan vs. Sitz, which established an exception to the Fourth Amendment for sobriety checkpoints. See DUI Sobriety Checkpoints: Unconstitutional? Police agencies, however, are required to publish advance notice of where and when they are to be held.
Law Enforcement, of course, has been reluctant to tip off driver to this information. Accordingly, many if not most agencies will publish the locations and times in the back pages of small local newspapers. Fortunately, however, the internet has proven a valuable source for ferreting out this information.
So….how do you get this information? Easy, if you are in California: visit the "Sobriety Checkpoints" section of my law firm's popular DUI defense website. Along with information about sobriety checkpoints generally, there are links to lists of checkpoints scheduled in most Southern California counties.
I've posted in the past about the unconstitutionality of DUI roadblocks (or, to use law enforcement's less offensive term, "sobriety checkpoints"). See, for example, Are DUI Roadblocks Constitutional?.
In upholding these checkpoints a few years ago, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court William Rehnquist admitted that the stops and detentions are inherently a violation of a citizen's Fourth Amendment rights — but felt that these "minor intrusions" were outweighed by larger governmental interests. However, he made clear that this exception to the Constitution was limited to drunk driving (and immigration) investigations: checkpoints could not be used for other purposes.
I've commented that this "exception" would, like most limitations on freedoms, inevitably be expanded into other areas — eventually eating up the constitutional right altogether. Soon after the decision was rendered, for example, it was used by police agencies to search cars for drugs. See DUI Roadblocks: The Slippery Slope and Law Proposed to Regulate Police Abuse of DUI Roadblocks.
The most recent example of this inevitable whittling away of our constitutional right:
Pennsylvania Town Latest to Force Drivers Over and Ask for Cheek Swabs for Federal Study
Reading, PA. Dec. 18 — Drivers in a southeastern Pennsylvania town were forced off a local street and into a parking lot, so a federal contractor – aided by local police –could quiz them about their road habits and ask for a cheek swab, in a replay of an incident last month in Texas.
The checkpoint, in downtown Reading, was one of several conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, which was hired by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Although the questioning and cheek swab were voluntary, local residents said they were directed by police to pull over, and that the questioning was persistent, according to the Reading Eagle.
"I feel this incident is a gross abuse of power on many levels," Reading resident Ricardo Nieves told City Council Monday, three days after being stopped.
Last month, the police chief in Fort Worth, Texas, apologized after allowing his officers to take part in a similar federal survey in which random drivers were pulled over and asked to submit breath, saliva and even blood samples. The drivers were also asked to pull into a parking lot, where they could give a cheek swab and volunteer for a blood or breath test, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Those who agreed were paid $10 to $50. Those who declined were briefly interviewed and allowed to leave.
"We realize this survey caused many of our citizens frustration and we apologize for our participation," Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead said.
Reading Police Chief William Heim told the Reading Eagle the federal agencies are trying to see what can be done about crashes and injuries, and the swabs were not to get DNA samples but to test for the presence of prescription drugs. He said police were there for site security only and did not pull drivers over or ask questions.
"In the grand scheme of things, I think it's a pretty innocuous and minor issue," Heim said…
"A car driver or passenger cannot be required or pressured into providing a DNA sample and, in fact, can't be stopped at all except on suspicion of a crime or for a properly conducted sobriety checkpoint," Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, told the Reading Eagle…
Police Chief Halstead pretty much summed up the attitude of big government: These illegal stops and detentions are "a pretty innocuous and minor issue".
So I’ve posted repeatedly in the past about the pointlessness (not to mention questionable constitutionality) of DUI roadblocks (aka "sobriety checkpoints"). See, for example, Do DUI Roadblocks Work?, Do DUI Roadblocks Work? (Part 2), Are DUI Roadblocks Constitutional?. And I’ve commented on the ridiculous extents to which cops will go to find a "DUI". See, for example, DUI in a Wheelchair?, DUI on a Horse? and DUI on a Lawn Mower.
In today’s news, we have both….
Bicyclist Arrested on Suspicion of Riding Under the Influence
Red Bluff, CA. Sept. 22 – A man was arrested after he was found to be riding a bicycle while impaired, police said.
The arrest came during a sobriety checkpoint held Friday in Red Bluff, said officers with the Red Bluff Police Department. They said Christopher Pence, 30, of Paradise, rode his bike into the checkpoint area. Officers said they stopped him because he didn’t have a headlight on his bike, as required by law.
Police said Pence appeared intoxicated and was arrested on suspicion of riding a bicycle while under the influence.
About 240 drivers were also screened between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. One man was issued a citation for an outstanding warrant from Butte County. Two others were issued citations for driving with a suspended license, and two other drivers were driving with expired licenses.
Another successful DUI roadblock: 240 drivers stopped…no DUIs — but they made the world safe from one tipsy bicyclist!
In recent times, I’ve detected a growing backlash against the excesses of the hysterical "War on Drunk Driving" — and even of politicians willing to question "The DUI Exception to the Constitution" and thereby risk MADD’s wrath come election time. See, for example, Backlash, Forced Blood Draws: Citizen Backlash? and Catheter Forced Up Penis After DUI Arrest,
One of the most egregious examples of the damage to our constitutional rights is exemplified by DUI roadblocks, aka "sobriety checkpoints". I’ve posted often in the past about the inherent unconstitutionality of this clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. See Are DUI Roadblocks Constitutional?. And I’ve explained how roadblocks are ineffective and the only real reason these roadblocks continue to be used is that they are "cash cows" — they generate a lot of revenue for local municipalities from citations and car towing (usually for license, registration, insurance or equipment violations). See Do DUI Roadblocks Work?, DUI Roadblocks for Fun and Profit and The True Purpose of DUI Roadblocks.
In the U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld sobriety checkpoints (Michigan v. Sitz), Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote for the 5-4 majority that although stopping drivers at a checkpoint without probable cause was an apparent violation of the Fourth Amendment, it was only a "minimal intrusion" on the rights of citizens — outweighed by the greater interest of the government in ensuring safety on the highways. The case was sent back to the Michigan Supreme court to revise its previous decision reversing the DUI conviction.
The Michigan Supreme Court refused to reverse its decision, again throwing out the conviction — on the new grounds that if DUI roadblocks are not a violation of the U.S. Constitution, they are certainly a violation of the Michigan state constitution. In other words, the court said to Washington, "If you won’t protect our citizens, then we will".
Since then, 9 other states have joined Michigan in relying upon their own constitutions or laws to ban "sobriety checkpoints" (Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Rhode Island, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Oregon and Minnesota), and 2 (Texas and Alaska) prohibit them for other legal reasons.
In today’s news, another state is on the road to joining this growing backlash….
House Passes Bill That Would Get Rid of DUI Checkpoints
Salt Lake City, UT. Feb. 24 — Citing protection of personal rights and upholding the Constitution, Utah’s House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill that would ban DUI checkpoints in Utah.
Under House Bill 140, which was approved 41-33, checkpoints for fugitives, Amber Alerts and invasive species would still be allowed. But the practice of having officers stopping every car at a specific location for a period of several hours — looking for drunken drivers — would be banned.
"This doesn’t seem very consistent with the very unique idea of American government and law enforcement that we have," said Rep. David Butterfield, R-Logan, the sponsor of the legislation, about DUI checkpoints…
Butterfield said that the data he has found in researching this bill shows that of the 11 states that do not use DUI checkpoints, about half are in the top half of traffic safety in the nation, while the other half are in the bottom half of states in regard to traffic safety.
"The data shows no correlation between safety with those that do practice checkpoints and those that don’t," Butterfield said…
Rep. Craig Frank, R-Pleasant Grove, spoke in favor of the bill. Frank talked about his experience of being involved in a DUI checkpoint and stated that he felt his rights were being infringed upon while officers shone flashlights into his car searching for any questionable items, even though he gave no reason for police to suspect him of any crime.
"I was uncomfortable with that," Frank said.
Frank said he felt the practice of DUI checkpoints was well-intentioned but said that he felt that passing this legislation would help bring Utah back to upholding the Constitution and protecting people’s rights…
Butterfield’s proposal will now move on to the state Senate…
There would appear to be light at the end of this long, dark tunnel….
Readers are aware that one of my biggest peeves about the so-called “War on Drunk Driving” is DUI roadblocks (aka “sobriety checkpoints”) — both because of their ineffectiveness and their inherent unconstitutionality. See, for example, Do DUI Roadblocks Work?, Do DUI Roadblocks Work? (Part II) and Are DUI Roadblocks Constitutional?
Since it has become increasingly difficult for law enforcement agencies to ignore the overwhelming evidence that DUI roadblocks are ineffective at apprehending drunk drivers, many have cleverly reversed their justifications for them and adopted a Kafkaesque defense: roadblocks are effective because they are ineffective. The reasoning here is, “We aren’t arresting any drunk drivers at the roadblocks because they are so effective at keeping them off the road”. See my post DUI Logic: Roadblocks Effective – Because They’re Ineffective. (Reminds me of the old joke: ”Why are you wearing a pink hat?”…”To keep the elephants away”…”But we don’t have elephants here”…”See?”)
In a variation on this twisted theme, last week the Beverly Hills police department offered his own feeble defense of roadblocks to the city council:
DUI Checkpoints Discussed at Council Meeting
Beverly Hills, CA. Sept. 23 — Beverly Hills Police Department Lt. Mark Rosen gave a presentation on sobriety checkpoints at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“The main objective of the checkpoint is not to arrest drunk drivers,” Rosen said. “The real objective … is to bring DUI driving to the forefront of people’s thought process.”
Hmmmm…..So what is the real reason why local police agencies are so insistent on continuing to use admittedly ineffective roadblocks?
The usual answer: money. Simply put, DUI “sobriety checkpoints” are a cash cow — a subterfuge 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 DUIs, DUI Roadblocks for Fun and Profit and The True Purpose of DUI Roadblocks.