Michael P. Ackley has worked more than three decades as a journalist, the majority of that time at the Sacramento Union. His experience includes reporting, editing and writing commentary. He retired from teaching journalism for California State University at Hayward.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of drunken-driving checkpoints. They seem to fly in the face of the Fourth Amendment, which says we shall “be secure … against unreasonable searches and seizures,” particularly without a warrant.
But California long ago extended the concept of a motor-vehicle driver’s implied consent to mean an abdication of that constitutional right. So now you may round a corner and find a highway patrolman, city officer or deputy sheriff waving you into a checkpoint where officers will sniff your breath, listen for slurred speech and general muzziness, put you through a field sobriety test and demand to see your papers … that is, your driver’s license.
Constitutional questions aside, up to now the law has been enforced evenhandedly. Wobbly drivers have been locked up, and those unable to produce a valid driver’s license have had their vehicles impounded.
But if a California Assembly measure makes it through the Senate and to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, that evenhandedness likely will end, for the bill creates a new protected class, the “poor immigrant.”
Now, the language of the act doesn’t specifically mention impoverished newcomers, but A.B. 1389 forbids police at DUI checkpoints to impound the cars of unlicensed drivers. And the website of the bill’s author, Santa Rosa Democrat Michael Allen, says the law is needed because the cost of rescuing impounded vehicles falls most heavily on “poor immigrants.”
We asked Democratic Party legislative liaison Howard Bashford for further explanation, and he said, “Various jurisdictions have turned checkpoints into cash cows. Our research shows they’re netting a dozen or so license violations for every DUI arrest.
“Somebody has to bail out the impounded cars, and that’s almost pure profit for cities and counties.”
We asked why this should fall most heavily on poor immigrants, and Bashford explained, “You can’t expect the assemblyman to specify illegal immigrants, can you? Latino advocacy groups were particularly concerned because California unfairly denies illegals the right to obtain driver’s licenses.
“You may be aware that there are a lot of illegal aliens in California’s Latino communities. Excuse me. I should have said ‘undocumented immigrants.’ After all, no human being can be illegal.”
When we pointed out the bill also would aid unlicensed citizen drivers, Bashford rubbed his chin and said, “That’s a flaw, all right, but we couldn’t seem to find a way around it. After all, the 14th Amendment provides for equal application of our laws, so if you write a bill to help one group of people, it has to help everybody.
“But, still, the primary purpose of the bill is to assist those who can’t afford to be law-abiding.”
Here’s what A.B. 1389 will do if it becomes law:
require police agencies to “employ a neutral methodology for determining which vehicles to stop,” but allow them to stop all vehicles that traverse the checkpoint;
require at least 48 hours public advance notice of a checkpoint’s general location;
allow unlicensed drivers to park their vehicles safely and summon a licensed driver to take it away – provided there is no evidence of some other crime or infraction;
forbid police agencies from combining sobriety and vehicle safety checkpoints.
The fact that the measure is designed to benefit illegal aliens may cause you to grind your teeth, but the fact is, it will reduce DUI checkpoints’ encroachment on the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
Reduced municipal revenue seems a small price to pay, and it will be enjoyable to watch Democratic legislators’ reaction when they realize they have taken an action that actually reduces the reach and power of government.
The only thing to be said about Rep. Anthony Weiner’s underwear photo is that the incident confirms what you already thought: The guy is a creep. Nothing need be added, because every possible take on the photo, from simple observations to double entendres, was made before last week was out, some of the wittiest remarks by folks logging on to the comments pages of newspapers’ online editions across the country.
Beyond this, it was distressing to see how many publications reported that Weiner could not say for certain “if it was him.” Grammar and morals continue parallel declines.