A Southern California civil rights group is calling for tighter regulation of DUI checkpoints in California. The California Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court have each found using sobriety checkpoints as a means to enforce drunk driving laws to be constitutionally permissible as long as established guidelines under state law are followed in planning and conducting them.

In 1987, the California Supreme Court set forth guidelines for the use of DUI checkpoints in a decision called Ingersoll v. Palmer. However, many civil rights advocates say the guidelines do not properly protect Californians from unreasonable government intrusion into their privacy during sobriety checkpoint operations.

The Equality Alliance recently held a news conference decrying the current use of DUI checkpoints in the state, pointing out that even the minimal guidelines set forth by the Supreme Court are not always followed by local law enforcement agencies.

In DUI cases involving sobriety checkpoints, an experienced DUI defense attorney will review the procedures followed by law enforcement in both the planning and operation of a sobriety checkpoint to ensure that police did not violate a defendant’s constitutional rights. The truth of the matter is, not all Californians accused of DUI consult with attorneys.

The Equality Alliance held its news conference in front of State Senator Christine Kehoe’s office in San Diego, urging her to support a proposed bill that would more closely regulate law enforcement’s ability to intrude on Californians’ privacy rights when operating sobriety checkpoints. Senator Kehoe is chair of the appropriations committee, which is considering the proposal.

DUI checkpoints often result in a variety of charges unrelated to drunk driving. As we reported on August 6, Oxnard recently ran a sobriety checkpoint operation in which more than 1,000 Californians were subjected to police scrutiny. The operation resulted in only 4 DUI arrests, but more than 40 people were cited for non-DUI offenses, and thirteen vehicles were towed from the scene by police.

Survey: 64 percent of Californians oppose DUI Roadblocks

The Equality Alliance conducted a survey earlier this year that shows 64 percent of Californians who responded oppose the use of DUI roadblocks. The group’s executive director says “people from all walks of life, all colors and stripes complained of harassment, complained of discrimination, complained of inconvenience and invasion of privacy.”

The proposed new law seeks to require local law enforcement agencies to adhere to strict DUI checkpoint guidelines and to restrict law enforcement’s authority during such operations to the investigation of DUI charges.

Currently, law enforcement uses the roadblocks to seek evidence of any alleged motor vehicle code violation, and worse, the presence of the checkpoint absolves law enforcement’s need for reasonable suspicion of those offenses. In the absence of a DUI checkpoint, the constitution requires law enforcement to have reasonable suspicion before they can conduct a traffic stop.

Source: 10 News, “Local Group Calls For Tougher Checkpoints Law,” Aug. 10, 2011