Money-Making DUI Roadblocks Growing

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on February 14th, 2010

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.)

  • Tennessee Highway Patrol claims it never needs PC nor reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop, since the State sells driver licenses and vehicle registration tags, and THP has a right to check it’s property tax contracts. State Police is required to run all DUI checkpoints, and local muni corporations are not allowed by the courts to run their own checkpoints without THP.

    To defeat this legal arguement by the States, I’d like to see “licensed lawyers” do the legal research and argument in DUI and traffic cases on the Constitutionally guaranteed right to travel, without a “driver license” contract extorted under duress at gunpoint by “police state death squads”, implementing the 6th Plank of the Communist Manifesto (“Govt control of communication and transportation”). Duress voids all contracts from inception. THP sold fake ID to 400,000 illegal aliens, who were not required to buy “driver licenses” (they got “driver certificates” marked “not valid for identification”).

    NY Times reported that 75% of judges in USA have never had a “license to practice law”, never passed a bar exam, never attended law college, and many cannot read, so how can they enforce a “license to drive”? Most judges who graduated law school and passed a bar exam don’t have a “license to practice law”, since they had to renounce it as condition for employment as judge.

    I make this argument for my right to travel in every traffic ticket case. Without a valid contract, no court has jurisdiction over traffic tickets (nor license suspension for refusal of BAC test under “implied consent”, nor forced blood draw without a warrant). I win in court every time I use that argument and testimony, but judges of course refuse to sign a written findings of fact and conclusions of law on that issue, which would set a precedent.

    Example of how to make this argument on right to travel for “non-commercial purposes”:

    It’s amazing DUI checkpoints result in so few DUI arrests, when USA currently has a secret Prohibition on alcohol for all adults, as confessed in writing by THP, signed by the TN Commissioner of Safety and governor.

    “Strictly speaking, a driver can register a BAC of 0.00% and still be convicted of a DUI. The level of BAC does not clear a driver when it is below the ‘presumed level of intoxication.’”
    —Tennessee Driver Handbook and Driver License Study Guide

  • David W

    I make this argument for my right to travel in every traffic ticket case. Without a valid contract, no court has jurisdiction over traffic tickets (nor license suspension for refusal of BAC test under “implied consent”, nor forced blood draw without a warrant). I win in court every time I use that argument and testimony, but judges of course refuse to sign a written findings of fact and conclusions of law on that issue, which would set a precedent. ” End Quote”

    Are you saying you have won numerous cases based on your argument above? Do you have examples you can share? In the context your speaking from, your stating that its illegal for Law Enforcement to issue any type of citation or charge if I read into what your saying here correctly.

    I’m not trying to be a skeptic, but this sounds almost too good to be true.

    In researching Larry’s post above btw, apparently this practice of impounding is headed into a Federal Appeals court. When its going to be heard was not specified, but it is on the books to be addressed.

    Damn sure looks like legalized extortion if you ask me. The highest bidder is “allowed” to perform the work for a fee. Like organized crime’s hold on the fish markets and docks back in WW II. History Channel had a very interesting documentary a month ago about how the Gov’t made a deal with those that controlled the activities on the docks in an effort to watch for Nazi infiltration or spy activities. They pointed out a case senerio where there was a “boss” that required anyone who wanted to bring their fish in to sell at market to pay a fee for the right to sell his wares…I see nothing different here. If you don’t pay,,you don’t get to play.

  • J. Williams

    QUIT turning this into a ‘black or white’ issue. IT’S NOT! It’s a ‘dysfunctional criminal justice system’ issue. It’s a ‘constitutional rights’ issue. And, in fact, white Americans get more DUI’s (per capita) than all minorities. It’s a FACT! Research it.

  • Douglas Self

    This is why if you’ve got a wad of cash, for whatever LEGITIMATE reason, always have it on your person, and NEVER in the glovebox or similar. If the cops pull the BS maneuver of suspecting you of having a “controlled substance”, and they bring out the “drug dog” to perform his little act literally on cue from the handling officer (Google “Clever Hans” for examples of how an animal can be trained to perform amazing feats that mimic seemingly remarkable abilities based on the handler’s cues, deliberate or inadvertent), they have the ability to search your VEHICLE w/o getting a warrant as that is (mis)construed to be the “probable cause” that a conscientious judge would demand before issuing a warrant, but…a warrant IS still required to search you unless there was already probable cause to arrest you (see “search incident to arrest”, which is perform obviously for officer safety, if nothing else). Police are incentivized to seize cash and valuables, under bogus pretenses that they’re the fruit of illegal activity, such as buying/selling of illegal drugs, under civil asset forfeiture laws.
    And if you have a “secret” compartment which you stash your dough to forestall robbery, including under color of authority, please keep in mind that recent legislation in California and other states makes it a felony to have a secret compartment in your vehicle, whether it’s a factory feature or installed after-market, for the purpose of illicit activity. The cops finding your wad in such a compartment in your vehicle will w/o doubt bring such a charge, even if your purpose was aboveboard in the first place.