San Diego and other California counties have been making millions of dollars off vehicle impounds at drunk driving checkpoints, according to 10news.com. In a recent audit, a discrepancy was found between the number of cars that are impounded and the number of drivers arrested for being under the influence. Most of the impounds are happening to drivers that are sober.
The DUI checkpoints are funded by grants given to local law enforcement agencies by the California Office of Traffic Safety. Those funds are provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and they are to be used to address alcohol and drug issues on the roadways, not impounding vehicles.
As a result of the audit, state lawmakers are pushing AB-1389 and AB-353 to curb the millions of dollars made by cities and law enforcement agencies off the cars that are impounded at sobriety checkpoints.
As the law currently stands, law enforcement can conduct a combined vehicle inspection and sobriety checkpoint to check for violations of motor vehicle exhaust standards in addition to DUI offenses. During a drunk driving roadblock, if an officer determines that a person is driving without ever being issued a driver’s license, they may be immediately arrested and their car impounded for 30 days. If the driver had a valid license at some point, but is driving through the sobriety checkpoint without a valid license, their vehicle may be impounded for a shorter period of time upon issuance of a notice to appear in court and the registered owner presents a valid license and proof of current registration.
AB-1389 states a combined vehicle inspection and sobriety checkpoint will no longer be allowed. Instead, local law enforcement would be allowed to establish a sobriety checkpoint program to identify drivers who are in violation of specified DUI offenses. Each motorist stopped would be detained so law enforcement may briefly question the driver and look for specified signs of intoxication. All provisions of DUI roadblocks under Ingersoll v. Palmer (1987) would be followed, including providing advanced notice of the general location within 48 hours of conducting the operation.
Further, AB-1389 does not allow for impounding vehicles at the checkpoints unless one of the specified conditions applies.
The existing law also authorizes law enforcement to immediately arrest a person and cause the removal and seizure of the vehicle they were operating if the officer determines the person was driving the vehicle while their driving privilege was suspended or revoked or without having been issued a license. A vehicle is subject to forfeiture as a nuisance if it is driven on a highway by a driver with a suspended or revoked license, or by an unlicensed driver. The vehicle is to be impounded for at least 30 days if its driver is unable to produce a valid driver’s license.
Under AB-353, the registered owner of the vehicle would be able to retrieve a vehicle that was impounded pursuant to a sobriety checkpoint program, the following day, upon a showing proof of a currently valid driver’s license and vehicle registration.
Recently, there have been allegations that drunken driving checkpoints and vehicle impound policies have been used to harass illegal immigrants, see caivn.org and 10news.com. Now, this audit shows local government and law enforcement agencies are actually profiting financially. Because of this, they should not be able to qualify for the grants which have an intended purpose of deterring drunk driving offenses.
If you are charged with drunk driving in San Diego County and you are not sure what to do next, never plead guilty until you talk to The Law Offices of Susan L. Hartman. There may be defenses in your case that can lead to reduced charges with less punishment or even a dismissal! For a free, confidential case evaluation, use the “Contact Us” form on this page or call 619-260-1122 today.