California Places Limits on Police Power at DUI Checkpoints

By Mike

California often seems to be on the forefront of embracing new laws, and it recently flexed its innovation muscles with the enactment of a new DUI law.

Under legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this week, police officers in California will no longer be able to impound cars from sober but unlicensed motorists who are stopped at drunk driving checkpoints.

While this seems like a logical decision, and a victory for sober drivers, one key constituency has the most to gain from the new law.

Apparently, police in California have been using drunk driving checkpoints as a cover in an effort to catch illegal immigrants, rather than people driving under the influence of alcohol.

Previously, California had a law which allowed police to impound cars that belonged to unlicensed drivers for up to 30 days.

After 30 days, however, the accrued impoundment fees can reach thousands of dollars. The high level of fees often caused the car to be worth less than the driver owed to the police, leading many drivers to simply relinquish the car.

Because of these extraordinary police powers, illegal immigrants who were unfairly targeted at drunk driving checkpoints often lost their vehicles, even if they were perfectly sober when they were driving.

These questionable police tactics raised the concern of Latino legislators in California, who joined together to pass the latest bill in the state legislature.

Under the new law, which was written by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, a Democrat from Los Angeles, sober drivers who are caught at DUI checkpoints without a driver’s license do not immediately lose their car.

Instead, law enforcement officials are now required to release the car to a licensed driver representing the owner of the car.

In situations where a licensed driver cannot be found immediately after the driver is stopped at a checkpoint, police may take the car to an impoundment lot. However, the police must release the vehicle to a licensed driver whenever one appears.

It is Cedillo’s hope that the new California DUI law will prevent police from unfairly targeting illegal immigrants for driving without licenses at checkpoints that are allegedly designed to stop drunk drivers.

It should be noted, of course, that the law does nothing to limit the power of police to stop drunk drivers.

In fact, by eliminating the distraction of targeting illegal immigrants, the bill may also have the side benefit of funneling more police resources to targeting drunk driving, as police spend less time worrying about immigrants who are driving without licenses.

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