Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Predatory" California DUI Checkpoints take a hit as senate's lawyers move to crack down on abusive, greedy cities

24,000 cars impounded in 2009 at California DUI checkpoints but only 3,200 of those behind the wheel were charged with DUI. Sound disproportionate? It was.

And it remains that way. Last week in Poway only 1 out of 1200 vehicles were arrested for DUI.

The latest in DUI attorney news features California Senate voting yesterday to restrict cities' ability to impound cars driven by people caught at California DUI checkpoints without driver's licenses.

As a direct response to the city of Bell, which confiscated vehicles from unlicensed motorists — many of them illegal immigrants — they wrongfully charged high impound fees or sell them in order to fill city coffers, lawyers hear.

Now towns seize cars for thirty days, with expensive impound fees accruing each day.

When unclaimed, cars are auctioned off, when fines and fees exceed the car's value.

In the future, if this bill goes through, if a sober driver is caught at a California DUI checkpoint without a valid license, officers must release the car to a qualified driver representing the registered owner, happy attorneys are told.

If a licensed driver isn't immediately available, the car can be released to one later by the impound yard.

But some Republican lawmakers said that public safety would be jeopardized by AB 353, which was previously approved by the Assembly but must go back to that chamber for action on amendments. The bill would then go to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has yet to take a position on it.

"If we lower this standard, what we are doing is encouraging more people without driver's licenses to be on the roads," said state Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego). "There is a reason they don't have a driver's license. It's not because they are a good driver."

Anti-immigration activists also warned that the legislation would remove one deterrent to illegal immigrants driving without a license.

"It seems if there is a law that inconveniences illegal aliens, they [legislators] are willing to change it," said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman with the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Bell police officers impounded hundreds of cars because the drivers were unlicensed. But according to the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), and other lawmakers, the practice is not isolated to the troubled Los Angeles suburb.

"What is really going on here is, some local governments, including the city of Bell, are using this impoundment to make money," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) "Folks on the other side of the aisle who rightfully sometimes rail against government running amok and hurting people with its police powers ought to recognize this for what it is — an abuse."

Republican senators even joined to pass the bill, which Democrats said was tailored to respond to DUI dragnets that are "purely predatory."

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