Man Sues City of Driver’s License Checkpoints

The odds are pretty slim that the State will rule in his favor but it is nice to see someone objecting the Soviet style “your papers please”.  Notice the remark from the police chief at the end of the article – very telling…

From the North County Times:

Man sues city over driver’s license checkpoints

Lawsuit seeks $15M in impound fees for drivers whose vehicles were towed

By EDWARD SIFUENTES – esifuentes@nctimes.com | Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2011 6:26 pm

An Escondido man filed a $15 million lawsuit against Escondido challenging the city’s driver’s license checkpoints, according to court documents obtained Friday.

The suit was filed in August by Rich Dudka after he drove through one of the checkpoints in Oct. 5, 2009, and his truck was impounded, according to the court documents obtained by the North County Times.

Dudka is asking the court to grant the lawsuit class-action status on behalf of everyone whose vehicles were impounded during driver’s license checkpoints held between Jan. 1, 2004, and Aug. 1, 2010. He is asking the city to reimburse drivers for all the money the city received through the checkpoints.

The suit estimates that amount to be in excess of $15 million, according to court documents. Dudka is also seeking punitive damages and legal fees.

Dudka could not be reached for comment on Friday. His attorney, Tomas Flores, issued a written statement.

“Driver’s license checkpoints, as practiced in the City of Escondido, run counter to our American ideals of freedom,” Flores wrote in an email. “This practice is a violation of our fundamental rights and we look forward to our day in court to defend the erosion of our individual liberties.”

Escondido’s city attorney, Jeff Epp, could not be reached for comment on Friday. City Manager Clay Phillips declined to comment.

The city has said that its checkpoints are conducted in a legal manner.

The lawsuit alleges that the driver’s license checkpoints conducted by the Escondido Police Department violated state law. It claims that the checkpoints violate Vehicle Code section 14607.6, which says that an officer “shall not stop a vehicle for the sole reason of determining whether the driver is properly licensed.”

The city has not responded to the lawsuit, but it asked the court to move the suit from San Diego, where it was filed, to the Vista Courthouse. The court agreed to move it to Vista.

According to the lawsuit, Dudka drove his 2005 Toyota Tundra through a driver’s license checkpoint on North Escondido Boulevard shortly before noon Oct. 5, 2009, and his vehicle subsequently was impounded. The lawsuit does not address why the vehicle was impounded, and the attorney could not be reached for clarification.

The truck was later sold because Dudka could not afford to pay the impound fees, according to court documents.

“At the time (the) officer stopped (the) plaintiff’s vehicle, (the) officer had no probable cause to stop (the) plaintiff,” according to the lawsuit. “As such, (the officer’s) stop of the plaintiff’s vehicle was unreasonable, and illegal.”

In February, Dudka filed a claim with the city asking for $250,000 in damages, according to court documents. The claim was denied by the city.

Until last year, the police department conducted primarily two kinds of checkpoints: sobriety checkpoints, which included driver’s license checks, and driver’s license-only checkpoints, which were primarily focused on verifying that the driver was properly licensed.

The driver’s license-only checkpoints were criticized by various groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties and the North County-based activist group El Grupo.

Last year, the police department agreed to change its oft-criticized driver’s license-only checkpoints to avoid a legal challenge from civil rights groups.

The checkpoints, now called traffic safety checkpoints, include other inspections, such as whether the vehicle is properly registered and whether occupants are wearing seat belts.

At the time, Maher and Epp said the checkpoints were conducted in a legal manner. However, the chief and Epp agreed to modify the operations to address the concerns made by the groups.

“Rather than argue with them, we will ask for more than just driver’s licenses,” the chief said last year.

Staff writer Teri Figueroa contributed to this report.

Call staff writer Edward Sifuentes at 760-740-3511.

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One response to “Man Sues City of Driver’s License Checkpoints

  1. My belief is that a vehicle is only a vehicle when you are making a profit,”money, loaf of bread”, etc.otherwise it’s a car or truck . And only commerial(money,loaf of bread) people have to have a license,to used ours(public)roads to make his or hers (“private”) business flurish