Vehicle checkpoints—near borders and so-called “sobriety checkpoints”—have increasingly resulted in arrests of noncitizens. One of the factors a court must examine to determine whether a checkpoint search is reasonable is whether the police are given discretion in selecting who gets searched. Ingersoll v Palmer (1987) 43 C3d 1321.
Recent analysis of California checkpoint searches raises the possibility that checkpoints unlawfully target noncitizens as a result of discretionary selection for searching based on ethnicity or residency. A University of California, Berkeley, study of California sobriety checkpoints in 2009 found that police seized more than seven times as many vehicles as there were DUI arrests, and that the majority of these seizures were of vehicles belonging to noncitizens. California Watch, Gabrielson, Car Seizures at DUI Checkpoints Prove Profitable for Cities, Raise Legal Questions (Feb. 13, 2010).
According to the State auditor, in California in 2010, there were 2562 checkpoints administered by law enforcement that resulted in 42,659 vehicles being impounded and nearly 27,938 citations issued to unlicensed motorists, as opposed to only 6990 arrests for driving under the influence. California State Auditor, Office of Traffic Safety, Report 2011–110 Summary (Feb. 2012). These numbers raise the possibility of unlawful discretionary enforcement, or “profiling,” at the checkpoints.