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.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, California DUI deaths have dropped 9.1% for the third year in a row. In 2007 nearly 1,132 people died in DUI accidents, while in 2008, the number decreased to 1,029.
“With this third year of declines in DUI deaths, we can truly call it a trend, a trend of life saving importance,” said Christopher J. Murphy, Director of the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS).
“Law enforcement, state and local agencies, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and other safety advocates, and the people of California have come together to address this deadly problem and are now seeing the results. As positive as these figures are, though, we can never let up until we achieve our goal of zero deaths.”
The count for 2008 marks a total decrease of nearly 21% from the most recent high statistic in 2005.
California has used many different tactics to address the DUI problem, including increasing youth public awareness programs, as well as hospital and jail based intervention programs.
The state has also expanded prosecution and probation. Police have increased DUI checkpoints, the Avoid DUI Taskforces program and Report Drunk Drivers – Call 911 campaign.
Total DUI just wants to wish everyone a happy and safe 4th of July!
I hope that the weekend weather forecast is shaping up for everyone, and you are all excited about spending a long (for some) weekend away from the office.
The Fourth is about celebrating with family, friends, food, fireworks and maybe a little alcohol – which also means swarms of police. All over the country, newspapers and online dailys are talking about a DUI crackdown this weekend.
In states where DUI checkpoints are legal, police will likely have them set up starting tonight until Monday. Any DUI suspects stopped at these checkpoints will be arrested for drinking and driving.
Many states are planning to have the DUI patrol out in full force. Depending on state DUI laws, if you are arrested and convicted of DUI, you may have fines, jail time, probation or alcohol counseling courses.
Driving under the influence is a serious criminal offense so be careful this weekend. Happy 4th of July!
Gleen Neely, a DUI lawyer in Ogden, Utah, has an interesting perspective on field sobriety checkpoints.
Glen has more than 10 years experience practicing DUI law, and his current thoughts were spurred on by a user discussion on DUI checkpoints over at answerology.com.
You might have seen a few more checkpoints up as police forces around the country set up more than usual over the holidays. The effectiveness of these checkpoints in catching drunk drivers varies.
Recent holiday checkpoints produced hundreds of arrests in some counties, and almost none in others. Either way, they affect all motorists and you should know your DUI rights and what to expect if you encounter a sobriety checkpoint or field sobriety test.
News from Portsmouth, New Hampshire calls attention to a potential thorn in the side of the extremely popular DUI sobriety checkpoint that law enforcement officials have used with some frequency across the nation over the past few years.
Sobriety checkpoints are placed along stretches of the road that have a high incidence of drunk driving, especially during heavy drinking periods, such as weekends and holidays.
Typically, a sobriety checkpoint works in one of two ways: either police officers employ a quick breath test and the drivers for each car that passes are tested, or officers will stop only certain drivers for sobriety tests.
The problem of Portsmouth stems from a series of such roadblocks set up in July 2005. The local Seacoastonline reports that the DUI arrests made during the five-agency team effort are languishing in courts.
Of 514 drivers stopped at the DUI checkpoints, 8 were arrested. Currently, half of the cases have been resolved with plea agreements to lesser charges, and deals are being negotiated for the remaining four cases.
Instead of DUI charges, the plea agreements so far have involved reckless driving pleas with a small fine and short suspension of license (generally, just a couple of months). If the remaining please hold form, the end result of the roadblock effort will be NOT ONE DUI conviction.
Of course, roadblocks have faced scrutiny for allegations of unconstitutionality, since officers are stopping and investigating cars and drivers without cause. The United States Supreme Court found that that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional, but eleven states have individually outlawed them.
Of course, the Portsmouth case could warrant a different kind of scrutiny. If they’re questionable under civil rights laws, and ALSO unable to convict DUI suspects, then how effective are they anymore?
Just days after the Department of Transportation announced a nationwide initiative to crack down on drunk driving, local newspapers across the country are reporting on increased DUI enforcement and unusually high numbers of DUI arrests.
The Summit County, Ohio DUI Task Force plans to conduct daily DUI checkpoints “around Labor Day” as part of the “Drunk Driving: Over the Limit, Under Arrest” initiative.
The Florida Highway Patrols “no tolerance” campaign began on Friday, with four DUI arrests, and will include a combination of saturation patrols and roadblocks through September 6.
A “regional crackdown” dubbed “Operation Night Hawk” involves law enforcement agencies in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and West Virginia, and will include sobriety checkpoints and underage drinking sting operations.
In Wilmington, Del. alone, the drunk driving task force charged 29 drivers Friday night and early Saturday morning.
Salt Lake County, Utah police agencies made 25 DUI arrests on Friday night, while a joint Pittsburgh-Pennsylvania State Police task force credited a successful checkpoint with 20 DUI arrests.
In Tempe, Ariz., 70 to 80 additional police officers will be on duty this weekend.
These reports encompass only a small fraction of the DUI crackdown operations, checkpoints, saturation patrols and other enforcement activities in effect from now through September 6.