WatchSonoma Watch

Why it’s important to publicize DUI checkpoints ahead of time

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:

  • That they would be set up in reasonable locations and overseen by policymaking officials in law enforcement and not by officers in the field;
  • That they would only be set up in areas where there was evidence of a high occurrence of drunken driving;
  • And that the public would be notified in advance of when and where they would occur.

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

18 Responses to “Why it’s important to publicize DUI checkpoints ahead of time”

  1. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @Susan -
    “I say we have checkpoints to make sure the driver has a license and insurance, that their car is in good condition, lights , blinkers, etc. are working.”
    Almost 2 to 1 thumbs up. I bet most of the thumbs up are the same who complain about too much regulation in other posts…

  2. GAJ says:

    @Reality Check

    That’s exactly what it is; whether a program is effective matters far less than getting “free” Federal Funds.

    Where does that “free” money come from?

    I think we all know the answer…whoever finally pays the tab for gross deficit spending at the local/State/Federal level…namely us and our future generations who’s standard of living will suffer to benefit current short sighted and idiotic spending decisions.

  3. Reality Check says:


    You’re probably on to something. Too much law enforcement today is driven by funding source. If the Feds or state pay for a seat belt enforcement drive or DUI checkpoints, then that’s what gets done, rather than the particular needs of a community.

    The thought that DUI checkpoints might be done simply because police salaries will be paid by another taxing jurisdiction is disgusting. I fear you may be right, though.

  4. GAJ says:

    As I said before, checkpoints are horribly inefficient at catching anyone drunk, without a license or any other offense.

    Why would anyone be for them when the facts are clear?


    “A 2009 University of Maryland study found that checkpoints don’t have “any impact on public perceptions, driver behaviors or alcohol-related crashes, police citations for impaired driving, and public perceptions of alcohol-impaired driving risk.”

    County police should employ roving — or saturation — patrols in which police patrol the roadways for dangerous drivers.

    State Supreme Court cases from both Pennsylvania and New Hampshire revealed that roving patrols caught 10 times more drunk drivers than checkpoints.

    According to the FBI, “It is proven that saturation efforts will bring more DUI arrests than sobriety checkpoints.”

    Patrols also stop distracted, speeding, aggressive and drowsy drivers because officers can catch them in the act.”


  5. Reality Check says:

    Comparing DUI checkpoints with communism or Nazi Germany is rhetorical hysteria. Tell me, who was the originator of our truck inspection stations? Was it Stalin or Hitler?

    Says one poster: “DUI is a government racket to get money in large sums easily. What other laws demand such huge penalties?”

    All kinds of laws mandate fines and penalties far in excess of DUI violations. Check it out.

    But, however large the penalty, it is obscenely trivial compared to the loss of a loved one to a drunk driver. Your idea of whose rights need protecting couldn’t be more different than those of this nation’s Founders.

  6. Bob Johnson says:

    Just because the US or California Supreme Court says something is unlawful, does mean it isn’t the right thing to do. These courts have been wrong on several issues.

    Remember liberals, the courts upheld slavery. The courts have held that private property can be seized for private use and segregation was legal.

    The courts change their minds and the law. There are good and valid reasons why check points exist. Catching law breakers be they illegal aliens or drunks is a good thing, not a bad thing.

  7. Commonsense says:

    Ok, so since the notice issue is a moot point, why the need for a bill? That would mean the Mr. Allen is wasting time on a bill that is both not needed and a repeat of existing law?
    BTW, I’ve often read articles in this paper forwarning of a upcoming check point planned in a certain area of the county, and between that and the signs now common at all checkpoints, it really seems to me that this bill and debate is a waste of everyones time and energy. Checkpoints should be targeted to areas and times were one is most likely to encounter DUI’s but the truth is the body of existing law restricting and regulating them is already extensive and often prevents effective use, so let it go and move on to other more important issue..priorities please..

  8. bill says:

    All of this nonsense comes in the wake of technology change that allows cars to drive themselves.

    Cars are technology and before we started using them we had no drunk driving issues.

    People have always used alcohol and drugs and will always continue to do so.

    Our lawmakers are as stupid as our medical community treating symptoms rather than what causes them.

    DUI is a government racket to get money in large sums easily. What other laws demand such huge penalties?

    We citizens need to wake up and change this horrendous scam that only benefits the politicians and the cops.

    Our alcohol abusers need to be treated for their illness. Expensive jails take money from our pockets and solve no medical issues. Drunks do not belong in jails!

  9. Thank you says:

    Thank you Mr. Gullixson and Mr. Sweeney for your fine investigative work on this issue.

  10. Sarky Fish says:

    And, please, let’s be fair, the cops should never arrest anybody unless those who have robbed a bank, raped a child, or run over your kid are first notified in writing via registered letter. Fuzzy bunny thinking is here to stay.

  11. Non Violent says:


    This isn’t a communist country nor anything like Nazi Germany.

    You are free to move to a country like those, if you like, but here in America we don’t allow police to require us to submit to their demands unless there is a criminal suspicion.

    In fact, I’ll bet you did not know, Susan, that the United States was founded and created specifically because the original settlers from Europe wanted to escape from an oppressive government.

    To allow police the authority to stop us, when THEY CHOOSE, is an absolute mistake. As it is, they lie about excuses to stop people every day. i.e. “uh, I’m stopping you because you made an unsafe lane change. Lets see your ID.”

    Susan, come on back and discuss all the police corruption we see right here in California starting with the widening scandal in the East Bay where multiple police officers are under FBI investigation for operating a prostitution ring, stealing drug evidence, and plotting to sell military weapons to drug gangs. Lets be sure to mention that the commander of that unit was the first to be arrested for the corruption.

    Checkpoints imposed upon citizens by police is only one step away from the police demanding a bribe rather than cite you for driving without insurance or for possession of small amounts of pot.

  12. David says:

    Why do I have the feeling that reporters and politicians are a bunch of drinkers who are trying to cover for their driving while under the influence??

  13. Susan says:

    I say we have checkpoints to make sure the driver has a license and insurance, that their car is in good condition, lights , blinkers, etc. are working. If all is well the driver moves on and goes on his way. If not, suffer the consequences, whatever they may be. Maybe arrest, maybe impound. I don’t care! I make it a point to always be insured and licensed. I make sure my car is in good working condition. And I would never sneak into another country and expect them to change and twist all the laws for me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Non Violent says:

    William Spatz:

    Yes, we know. “The law is the law.”

    Its against the law to grow pot plants in our own back yards because of only 120 politicians in Sacramento who say its not their preference.

    120 “lawmakers” ruling over a state of 32 million people.

    A mere 120 people dictating to the 32 million people of California what they can and can’t do in life.

    But you notice those same 120 “lawmakers” refuse to fully open their budgetary books because they have no intention of obeying “the law.”

  15. Non Violent says:

    Remember the Sonoma County Judge who was arrested for DUI roughly two years ago ?

    Wouldn’t it have been more fair to her had she known about the location of police patrols in her area before she left her place of alcoholic consumption ?

    She wasn’t caught at a check point, but the Judge was upset just the same at being arrested !!!!

  16. GAJ says:

    I think checkpoints, overall, have proven to be very inefficient and it’s time for them to go away.

    That’s the bill Allen should have presented to the Governor.

    Patrols and community interaction are a better use of our Police resources.

  17. william spatz says:

    why would you want to let a law breaker know where the police will be at any given time and do you think that the law breaker is going to publish or tell when they will be breaking the law so the police can catch them, i think not and when do law breakers (criminals) have more rights then the law abiding citizen. we spend so much money on the issues and the courts when the law is cut and dry,the law is the law you break it you have to suffer the consequnces period !!!

  18. Not A Chance says:

    Bravo PD, job well done, finally fighting for the liberal majority you serve in Sonoma County.

    Allen’s bill is controversial but most great pieces of legislation begin as such, most civil liberties cases don’t come easily, change is hard but its often right.

    Making sure that checkpoints are in high risk areas of town means that the frequency in catching drunk drivers will be greater, that should be all that matters. And knowing a few people who have been arrested for DUI, all 4 of them have been caught outside of a checkpoint, I have the faith in the extensive training we give our police personnel to recognize the signs of drunk driving in the “lower” risk areas of town.

    P.s. Drunk people aren’t going to look up locations, drunk people are stupid, they do stupid things, driving drunk is a stupid thing.