On January 1, 2012 a new law went into effect in California that prohibits police from impounding vehicles at sobriety checkpoints if the driver's only offense is not having a license. Prior to this law's passage, law enforcement's towing of vehicles hit undocumented and unlicensed immigrants the hardest. The drivers were either in violation of Vehicle Code Section 12500 (essentially driving without a valid California license) or Vehicle Code Section 14601 (driving on a suspended license).
Advocates of the law are extremely happy since their position is that tow truck companies exploited the old towing rule, particularly at locations in Los Angeles with significant immigrant populations. The sponsor of the new law, State Assemblyman Gil Cedillo indicated that the old law allowed police to impound vehicles for up to 30 days, resulting in fees that could easily top $1,000. The recent scandal involving the City of Bell revealed a corrupt system which exploited those whose vehicles were towed, netting the city and tow operators huge fees.
An investigation conducted by UC Berkeley determined that that unlicensed drivers impounds brought in over $40 million in revenue from fees and auctions for local governments and towing companies in 2009 alone. For every arrest for driving while intoxicated at the sobriety checkpoints, there were as many as 60 cars seized from unlicensed drivers.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said the changes in the law are an issue of fairness. "There is a vast difference between someone driving without a license because they cannot legally be issued one and someone driving after having their license revoked," Beck said.
Others in law enforcement, however, have expressed disappointment in the law, as it restricts their ability to impound vehicles of those without valid licenses. Immigration proponents have long asserted that current laws prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining licenses, thereby creating a 'Catch-22', where the undocumented are unfairly targeted.
Regardless of the new law's effect on unlicensed drivers, it is highly likely that there will be little effect on the continuing practice of police utilizing Sobriety Checkpoints to crack down on suspected DUI drivers. Sobriety Checkpoints are set up by law enforcement to screen drivers for violations of California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a), "Driving Under the Influence". These checkpoints must adhere to standards set forth in the Ingersoll v. Palmer case, in which the court mentioned standards law enforcement must adhere to for a checkpoint to be valid.
Should you require the services of an aggressive Southern California DUI Defense Attorney, Contact David Welch.