Proposed Law Would Tighten California DUI Checkpoint Regulations

On behalf of The Law Offices of Michael L. Davidson posted in DUI on Wednesday, September 21, 2011.

The California State Legislature is considering a bill that would change the way that police in the state conduct DUI checkpoints. While the legislation is championed by immigrant rights advocates and advocated by various California DUI criminal defense attorneys, many in law enforcement see the bill as reducing the efficacy of DUI checkpoints.

California Assemblyman Michael Allen proposed a bill that would establish uniform regulations for DUI checkpoints across the state. Currently, there is no regulation of DUI checkpoints state-wide. Police have the option of following the guidelines for operating sobriety checkpoints that the California Supreme Court outlined in a 1987 decision, but the police forces do not have to follow them. The bill passed the Assembly in May 2011 and is waiting for a vote in the Senate.

Among the changes in the rules in the bill is to allow those driving without licenses who police stop at DUI checkpoints to park their cars in a safe spot and call someone else to come and pick the vehicles up, rather than have their cars impounded for 30 days as is the current practice. The bill would also require police to give citizens a 48 hour advance warning of when they were going to set up DUI checkpoints and the general area of where the checkpoints are going to be.

The bill is an attempt to address the criticism that California’s DUI checkpoints target illegal immigrants, who cannot get driver’s licenses under California law, more than drunk drivers. The arrest data from Petaluma, CA is illustrative of the entire state: in 2010 approximately 50 percent of the citations or arrests by police at sobriety checkpoints were of drivers without licenses. Of the 506 cars that police pulled over during 2010 at the checkpoints, only 25 resulted in arrests for DUI, while police issued 117 citations for driving without a license. Immigrant rights activists argue that those in the undocumented immigrants run the risk of deportation when they have to appear in court for such citations and that is the real goal of police officers in issuing the tickets.

Critics of the bill say that the notice provision of the bill would defeat the whole purpose of the bill. Those opposed to the bill argue that if people know where the police are going to be stopping drivers looking for those who are intoxicated, they will just take different routes. Some in law enforcement also claim that the DUI checkpoints serve as a valuable public education and deterrent tool, so even though the checkpoints do not net many DUI arrests they still serve a useful function as is.

Police also defend the practice of checking for driver’s licenses at DUI checkpoints for safety reasons. Ken Savano, head of Petaluma Police Department’s Traffic Unit, noted that drivers with suspended licenses are four times more likely to be involved in an accident and those without licenses are five times more likely to be involved in an accident.

As part of their jobs of keeping the roads safe for all drivers, police need to be able to stop drivers who are driving while intoxicated. However, police should not be able to use public safety as a guise in order to be able to harass certain parts of the population. Having a uniform set of rules for police forced across the state would reduce the risk of DUI checkpoints being abuses.


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