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DUI Checkpoints: Worth the Cost?

Posted on Thursday, December 5th, 2013    

A recent article highlighted the relatively low rate of DUI arrests at so-called “checkpoints” on holiday weekends.  According to KCRA News sources, the Sacramento Police Department held a DUI checkpoint in the downtown area near Fifth Street along L Street in advance of Halloween.  Of the 800 cars that passed through the checkpoint, only six drivers were cited for DUI.

While many people applaud the use of DUI checkpoints, this represents a less than one percent arrest rate for drunk drivers.  The high number of officers detailed to a checkpoint means that these procedures cost the taxpayers a great deal of money with a relatively small return.  Further, there is no real evidence that DUI checkpoints deter drunk driving or prevent accidents.  They may also be attacked on Constitutional grounds.

The DUI Checkpoint Dilemma

There are several problems inherent in DUI checkpoints.  The public pressure to do something about drunk driving pushes police departments to make themselves visible, but some research suggests that DUI checkpoints do not actually deter drunk driving.  Instead, they tend to deter people from driving through the areas where checkpoints may be ongoing.

Sacramento is under particular pressure when it comes to DUI.  The city has the highest percentage of alcohol-related accidents in California for its population and size, according to the state’s Office of Traffic Safety.

Sacramento’s answer to this problem has been to increase DUI checkpoints.  Each year, officers conduct 24 checkpoints within the city, almost one every other week.  While these checkpoints may be making a small difference in the number of drunk drivers on the road at any given time, there is no statistical evidence that the practice reduces DUIs.

Legal Arguments Against Checkpoints

While the courts so far have upheld the right of law enforcement to set up DUI checkpoints, they have stressed that officers cannot target a particular set of drivers, such as males or the young.  DUI checkpoints can quickly land on shaky legal ground if there is a question of profiling.  Further, there have been successful legal challenges to DUI checkpoints when a blood alcohol test does not support an arrest based on “probable cause.”

If you are arrested at a DUI checkpoint, it is important to retain an attorney who can protect your rights.  A DUI defense attorney can help you defend yourself against drunk driving charges based on the facts of your case.

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