There’s been a lot of debate and some scoffing this week about a bill by a local legislator that would require police to give the public 48 hours notice before conducting a DUI checkpoint. The fact is this is nothing new. Requiring advance notification was one of the restrictions required by both the U.S. Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court when they ruled on the constitutionality of checkpoints more than 20 years ago.
Even with these kinds of limitations in common practice, 12 states – including Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Oregon and Washington – either have found DUI checkpoints to be unconstitutional or have passed laws, or made legal interpretations, that make them illegal.
Here’s an editorial we published today on this issue:
Abiding by a high court directive
“Advance publicity is important to the maintenance of a constitutionally permissible sobriety checkpoint,”
- California Supreme Court, Ingersoll v. Palmer, 1987
As reported Monday, local police are opposing a bill by Assemblyman Michael Allen that would mandate 48 hours’ notice before setting up a sobriety checkpoint. It also would require cops to tell the public two hours in advance specifically where it’s going to be.
“It takes away the effectiveness of the checkpoint,” said Petaluma Police Chief Dan Fish. “Drunk drivers are not going to drive through the checkpoints, they’re going to drive somewhere else.”
So what’s the point of trying to nab drunken drivers if you have to tell drunken drivers in advance when and where they will be caught? Here’s the point. It’s a directive from both the U.S. Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court without which sobriety checkpoints probably wouldn’t pass the constitutionality test against unlawful searches and seizures.
The courts didn’t validate these guidelines because they wanted to allow more drunken drivers on the road. On the contrary, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 1990 Michigan case — as with the California Supreme Court in a 1987 ruling — found that there was a “substantial government interest” in stopping drunken driving. But the courts found the only way the checkpoints would pass the balance test for abiding by the state and U.S. constitutions was to have certain limitations.
Among them were:
Making this issue all the more volatile, Allen’s bill, AB 1389, also focused on the issue of how checkpoints were being used to catch unlicensed drivers and then impounding their vehicles. This portion of the bill has been taken out and merged with AB 353 by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, which limits how and when a car can be impounded.
The bills may be separate, however, the issues remain connected. The fact is that illegal immigrants are most affected by checkpoints because they’re not allowed to obtain driver’s licenses in California. And, in recent years, data concerning locations of checkpoints, times of day and arrest records strongly suggest that law enforcement officials across the state have been more concerned about drivers’ legal status than their sobriety.
Allen’s bill would put in place the policies and practices already in use in many jurisdictions while protecting against the slippery slope of allowing checkpoints to become general dragnets that could crop up without warning. This is not what the courts authorized, and it’s not what the founding fathers had in mind when they enshrined Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Police in Santa Rosa and elsewhere routinely inform the public about when they will be patrolling certain roads to crack down on speeding. Such advance notice serves as a deterrent by letting the public know that it is taking such policing seriously. These rules would do the same with checkpoints.
We encourage Gov. Jerry Brown to sign Allen’s bill.
- Paul Gullixson