U.S. Senators Want Apple to End DUI Checkpoint Apps

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on March 23rd, 2011

Senators are now pressuring Apple and others companies to remove internet applications which warn motorists of drunk driving roadblocks.


Senators Ask Apple, Google, RIM to Pull Checkpoint Apps 

Washington, DC.  March 22
— Four Democratic senators on Tuesday penned a letter to Apple, Google, and Research in Motion to urge the companies to remove apps that provide users with information about DUI checkpoints.

"With more than 10,000 Americans dying in drunk-driving crashes every year, providing access to applications that alert users to DUI checkpoints is harmful to public safety," according to the letter, which was signed by Sens. Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Frank Lautenberg, and Mark Udall.

The senators asked the companies to remove the apps, unless the app creators remove DUI or DWI checkpoint functionality.

"One application contains a database of DUI checkpoints updated in real-time. Another application, with more than 10 million users, also allows users to alert each other to DUI checkpoints in real time," they wrote. "Giving drunk drivers a free tool to evade checkpoints, putting innocent families and children at risk, is a matter of public concern.


How conveniently memories fade….

As I’ve summarized in past posts (see, for example, DUI Sobriety Checkpoints: Unconstitutional?), a number of years ago the Michigan Supreme Court held that DUI roadblocks (aka "sobriety checkpoints) were unconstitutional.  Such warrantless stops, the court correctly concluded, were a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution since American citizens cannot be stopped in their cars without reasonable suspicion to believe that they had committed a crime.  

The United States Supreme Court thereafter reversed the state court.  In Michigan v. Sitz, Chief Justice Rehnquist essentially admitted that the stops were violations of citizens’ rights — but found that these were only minimal violations.  And these minimal intrusions, Rehnquist found, were outweighed by the more important interests of the government in ensuring safety on the highways.  However, the Court left to the states the role of determining how to minimize these intrusions.

The first state supreme court decision to define these regulations was Ingersoll v. Palmer.  In that landmark case, the California Supreme Court laid down the safeguards mentioned in Sitz.  These mandatory procedures specifically included "advance publicity":


Advance publicity is important to the maintenance of a constitutionally permissible sobriety checkpoint. Publicity both reduces the intrusiveness of the stop and increases the deterrent effect of the roadblock.

The concurring opinion in State ex rel. Ekstrom v. Justice Ct. of State, supra, 663 P.2d 992, at page 1001 explained the value of advance publicity: "Such publicity would warn those using the highways that they might expect to find roadblocks designed to check for sobriety; the warning may well decrease the chance of apprehending ‘ordinary’ criminals, but should certainly have a considerable deterring effect by either dissuading people from taking ‘one more for the road,’ persuading them to drink at home, or inducing them to take taxicabs.

Any one of these goals, if achieved, would have the salutary effect of interfering with the lethal combination of alcohol and gasoline. Advance notice would limit intrusion upon personal dignity and security because those being stopped would anticipate and understand what was happening." (663 P.2d 992, 1001, conc. opn.Feldman, J.; see also State v. Deskins, supra, 673 P.2d 1174, 1182.)  Publicity also serves to establish the legitimacy of sobriety checkpoints in the minds of motorists. Although the court in Jones v. State, supra, 459 So.2d 1068, found that advance publicity was not constitutionally mandated for all sobriety roadblocks, nevertheless the court offered the observation, consistent with finding reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment, that [43 Cal. 3d 1347] "’[A]dvance publication of the date of an intended roadblock, even without announcing its precise location, would have the virtue of reducing surprise, fear, and inconvenience.’ [Citation.]" (Id., at p. 1080.)
 

Maybe the senators need a crash course in constitutional law….
 

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