December 18, 2009

SAN DIEGO – The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties and El Grupo sent a demand letter today to the city attorney of Escondido calling for an end to the city’s policy and practice of conducting driver’s license checkpoints.

The city’s police chief has stated that the sole reason for the license checkpoints is to check driver’s licenses, but the California Vehicle Code prohibits officers from stopping a vehicle “for the sole reason of determining whether the driver is properly licensed.”

“The statute is clear. Driver’s license checkpoints are illegal in California,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director for the San Diego ACLU. “The Escondido police department should stop them immediately.”

The California attorney general recently concluded that driver’s license checkpoints violate state law, citing Vehicle Code section 14607.6. The ACLU also cites Vehicle Code section 12801.5(e) which prohibits officers from detaining or arresting a person “solely on the belief that the person is an unlicensed driver,” unless the officer has reasonable cause to believe the driver is under the age of 16.

The ACLU letter, sent to City Attorney Jeffrey Epp, also warns that if the city simply moves to conducting sobriety checkpoints, these stops should not be used as a cover for continuing to conduct unlawful driver’s license checkpoints.

“Officers need to have reasonable grounds to believe a driver is impaired before asking for licenses,” said Kevin Keenan, executive director of the San Diego ACLU. “If police officers continue to require everyone stopped to show their license, we believe they will still be violating state law.”

“Community members have been working hard to improve relations with the Escondido police, and this practice sets us way back,” said Victor Torres, spokesperson for El Grupo, a coalition of North County organizations addressing issues of importance to Latinos and other disenfranchised groups.

NOTE: In a San Diego Union-Tribune article about the license checkpoints, an error was made in characterizing the ACLU's position on sobriety checkpoints.

Here is the correction we sent to the Union-Tribune:

The ACLU appreciates the Union-Tribune’s coverage of driver’s license checkpoints in Escondido. However, one correction is necessary. Our legal director did not state that he supports sobriety checkpoints. Instead, he acknowledged that existing law allows such checkpoints and distinguished them from driver’s license checkpoints, which we believe are specifically prohibited by California law.


SD Union Tribune editorializes against license checkpoints

ACLU/El Grupo Demand Letter on License Checkpoints

2009 12 18 Checkpoint Letter to Escondido final.pdf