By on August 23, 2011

Confiscating automobiles has become a significant source of revenue for cash-strapped California cities. Last Tuesday, the state legislature gave preliminary approval to legislation to impose limits on the practice.

Under current law, municipalities run sobriety checkpoints funded almost entirely by $30 million in federal grant money. The drunk-driving (DUI) roadblocks catch comparatively few drunk drivers, so officers often focus on issuing as many tickets as possible for minor violations while cars are stopped. Assembly Bill 353 separates vehicle inspection checkpoints from DUI roadblocks and prohibits impounding of vehicles unless the alleged offense meets certain criteria.

Cars will be impounded from anyone suspected of driving while drunk or on a suspended license, unless the driver or a police officer can safely park the vehicle until a properly licensed driver can take it away. Some lawmakers see racial motivation behind current practice.

“Despite their original intent, sobriety checkpoints are increasingly being used to target drivers that are ineligible to obtain licenses in order to increase local revenue,” the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), explained. “Frequently these checkpoints are set up in the areas that do not have a high correlation of DUI arrests or accidents; instead, they are placed in neighborhoods and, or locations where there are higher populations of low-income families and communities.”

Cedillo cited the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley which calculated that at 3200 roadblocks in the past two years, 61 percent took place in locations with a heavy Hispanic population.

“While impoundments for DUIs are usually overnight, impoundment for driving without a license typically last for a term of 30 days,” Cedillo said. “Often, this effectively results in the forfeiture of the vehicle because the towing and impoundment fees may well exceed the value of the vehicle, which is apart from the fines already paid to local governments.”

Municipalities collect $150 from license fines imposed at roadblocks plus receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from towing companies. Out of 24,000 vehicle impounds at DUI roadblocks in 2009, a mere 13 percent were related to drunk driving.

A copy of the legislation is available in a 160k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: Assembly Bill 353 (California State Legislature, 8/16/2011)


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17 Comments on “California Legislature Considers Limiting DUI Roadblock Use...”

  • avatar

    When, exactly, did it become unfashionable to target people who break the law?

    If you cruise thru one of these checkpoints with no license, then you deserve to be punished.

    If you just happen to be in the country illegally, you deserve to be deported.

    This is how things used to work in the U.S.A. when things used to work in the U.S.A.. (By the way, this is the way things work in most of the organized world.)

    • 0 avatar

      When did it become fashionable to set up roadblocks to soak people for any violation they can find? It’s not like these are targeting illegal immigrants or even drunk drivers, or if either group are the majority of revenue from these operations. The motivation and execution is to make money on details and that’s what should be considered the problem with them. But unless it’s in your neighborhood I suppose stereotypes of the targeted community can overcome your distress at the underlying intent.

      Until they set one up in your neighborhood.

    • 0 avatar

      The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not in favor of racial profiling either, and from the other comments here, unless I misunderstood something, it doesn’t seem as though that was happening in this particular case.

      Where I live (Switzerland), it is not unusual for the cops to set-up checkpoints (not enough to be onerous, just enough to keep one honest) for motorway sticker (300 CHF fine vs 50 for the sticker), also alcohol (they ask what you’ve had to drink, then make you blow), tire condition, or having winter tires mounted in winter (insurance here does not pay if you wreck in winter on summer tires)… I think I’m stopped on average about once every 2 years…

      Re. guys without licenses, what are the odds that the driver a) probably has not been trained in the ROR, b) probably does not have insurance, c) possibly has equipment violations?

      If you drive into a checkpoint w/o license, or a, b, or c, then I have little sympathy for you. I would also be interested to hear if there be any statistics showing the relationship between these kinds of violations and DUI.

      The U.S. is a nation built on impartiality of and equality under law as well as a sense of personal responsibility… if one wants to scoff at the law and cruise about in whatever number of myraid possible illegalities, one should be prepared to face the consequences.

      If one were interested in harassing minorities, one would not have to erect a checkpoint to do it.

      p.s. I’m thinking that when automated insurance verification programs become wide-spread, there will be far more scofflaws will be scouped up as a consequence of the insurance stop.

      • 0 avatar

        There are two basic issues here:

        -With some exceptions, police in the US are not allowed to make a stop unless there is a minimum of “reasonable suspicion” — arbitrary, random stops are not usually permitted. The Supreme Court has approved some use of random checkpoints, but only to a point. Checkpoints are, among other things, supposed to target specific objectives, and are not supposed to serve as general fishing expeditions.

        So it’s debatable whether a DUI checkpoint should be checking drivers for their licenses, when the specific purpose of the checkpoint is to target intoxicated drivers.

        -There’s also a question of fairness. If the checkpoints were being set up to discriminate, then the court would be obliged to stop those checkpoints.

        In other words, it isn’t Switzerland; there are constitutional issues to be considered, given the limitations on checkpoints and random stops. But in my opinion, the original article doesn’t necessarily make its case very well.

      • 0 avatar

        What I don’t get is why the purpose of the check-points has to be limited to a specific issue … what is wrong with the specific issue being that the car is properly licensed, insured and maintained, and the driver is properly licensed, insured, belted, not operating under the influence, and free of any wants or warrants?

        I understand the whole constitutional angle (I passed high school civics class and also enjoy reading rulings handed down by SCOTUS, one of which, Whizzer White, even played for my hometown football team), but sometimes I think we go too far on somethings, and not far enough on others (like this.)

      • 0 avatar

        What I don’t get is why the purpose of the check-points has to be limited to a specific issue

        There are Fourth Amendment rights to be considered here. The Constitution basically says that we have the right to be left alone by the police unless there is some good reason. The court has since defined those rights to allow for some latitude, but there is a limit (and there should be a limit.)

        The Supreme Court doesn’t see a car as being the equivalent to a home, so we have fewer rights while driving than we do in our houses. But that doesn’t mean that we can be stopped simply for the hell of it.

        The case that ruled in favor of DUI checkpoints made the claim that DUI could be an exception because the crime was particularly serious. We end up turning this matter into a slippery slope as steep as the Alps if we start applying that seriousness label to everything and anything.

        Checkpoints are considered to be exceptions to the reasonable suspicion standard, but again, there has to be a compelling reason for a given checkpoint to be considered to be an acceptable exception. If checkpoints are catching few drunks yet are predictably snaring a bunch of other violators, then they aren’t really doing their job and the cops are essentially using DUI as a pretense to make stops that they shouldn’t be making.

      • 0 avatar

        From the news today:

        “Court records in Orange County indicate Hermosillo has no major criminal record but pleaded guilty to four traffic violations in La Habra in 2008, including driving without a valid license and having no proof of insurance.”

        She made the news today after dropping her handicapped infant son off the roof of a parking structure and fatally injuring him.

  • avatar

    Another revenue scheme to pay bills in Kalifornia. Gas up the moving vans and head east.
    Why stop at cars? Strip offenders of all assets and possessions, garnish wages, but don’t imprison them. Prisoners don’t pay taxes, they consume funds.

    • 0 avatar

      California is already garnishing the wages of a lot of people:
      * 10% state income tax
      * 9.25% sales tax
      * 1% property tax (that’s a lot of money on a shack costing $800k)

  • avatar

    When, exactly, did it become unfashionable to target people who break the law?

    The Supreme Court has ruled that racial profiling is illegal. While race can be used as a component of a profile, race alone can’t be the only cause for making stops or prioritizing enforcement.

    That being said, the Newspaper is being sloppy. The Newspaper’s take on things is to say that “the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley which calculated that at 3200 roadblocks in the past two years, 61 percent took place in locations with a heavy Hispanic population.”

    If you go to the original source, what the article actually says is “Sixty-one percent of the checkpoints took place in locations with at least 31 percent Hispanic population.”

    Which is fine, except that the 2010 Census reports that about 38% of California’s population is Hispanic: That suggests that the cutoff point chosen by the original writer was a bit disingenuous, since 31% is below the state average.

    Not that I like checkpoints — personally, I wish that the court hadn’t ruled them to be constitutional — nor do I think that they should be used for purposes that weren’t explicitly allowed by the court. But it would be good to put the facts into perspective. California has a high Hispanic population, a lot of whom are violating laws such as those that require drivers to have licenses, so they will invariably be overrepresented in such cases. It would be hard for many cities to set up checkpoints that aren’t close to Hispanic areas, particularly if we are going to define a Hispanic area as one that has a Hispanic population of 31%.

  • avatar
    George B

    Just seems like a seriously bad idea to use traffic laws and police to collect revenue. Guaranteed to reduce respect for laws and law enforcement.

  • avatar

    To quote the Firesign Theatre, “Help! It’s the police!”

  • avatar

    Consider the source.

    For those who don’t live in CA, just Google “One Bill Gil” Cedillo’s name and you’ll see where this is coming from. If the man was white, he’d be wearing a KKK hat. Even though he allegedly represents a wide swath of Angelenos, he cares only for those whose skin color matches his.

    He represents the worst of the worst of us.

    • 0 avatar

      An apparent kindred spirit to Maxine Waters?

    • 0 avatar

      You beat me to the “One Bill Gil” comment…so I guess this is his second bill. For the poster who asked, he is indeed a kindred spirit to Maxine Waters.

      DUI checkpoints are well-publicized in California (by law, I guess? I’m a fairly recent transplant), so anyone heading out for a drive on a busy weekend night should avail himself/herself of their location, so as to plan an alternate route. (If you run into one, you may well have forgotten because you are drunk.)

  • avatar

    Here In Ontario it called “Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere” or R.I.D.E.. They check for seat belts,drunks,dopers, unsafe cars. If you arn’t drunk,stoned, unbelted or driving a beater, the Cops don’t even ask for I.D.

    I don’t 100 percent agree with the RIDE program. I personally believe that it puts a strain,on the already strained Police.

    However I don’t care, my car is safe and I’m not drunk.

    A few years ago, after a string of rapes and murders, the cops set up a phony RIDE check. They were not looking for drunks. What they were looking for was a grey SUV with a particular tread pattern.

    So they stop an Airforce Colonel driving a grey Pathfinder. A Candian air force base comander,no less. The guy used to fly the Prime Minister around.

    He pleaded guilty to multiple rapes, and two murders. Declared “a dangerous offender” he will never be released. If hadn’t of been stopped,who knows how many more he would have killed.

    So maybe RIDE programs do work.

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