Monthly Archives: December 2007

Are DUI Checkpoint Roadblocks that Effective?

Ok, I’ve posted repeatedly in the past that so-called “sobriety checkpoints” are ineffective and unconstitutional, and are inreasingly used as revenue generators and illegal subterfuges to stop citizens for unrelated matters.  

Do they work?  At the risk of beating a dead horse….

Study Says DUI Checkpoints Ineffective

Phoenix, AZ, Dec. 14  –  Drunken driving checkpoints are costly and do little to prevent DUI-related traffic deaths, according to new data from the American Beverage Institute.

“The states that use roving patrols have an average of 7 percent fewer alcohol-related fatalities than those states that use checkpoints,” said Sarah Longwell of the Institute, which compiled the numbers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

She said some states “really see the value in increasing roving patrols over sobriety checkpoints, while others defend the practice, saying it’s a deterrent mechanism.”

Mesa Police have used mostly roving patrols in recent years, but checkpoints aren’t out of the picture, said Detective Steve Berry.

“We do use them, we don’t necessarily use them all the time, we just consider them another tool that we have in our bag,” said Berry. “The last one that we did here in Mesa was on Sept. 3 of this year, but prior to that, we had not done one in three to four years.”

Longwell said the checkpoints are costly and ineffective and issued a challenge to police looking for drunken drivers.  

An interesting law enforcement concept:  If they don’t work, don’t use them…..Unless they raise a lot of money for local government from unrelated license, registration and equipment citations, or are used illegally as deterrence or for stopping citizens for unauthorized reasons.

DUI Chain Gangs

Just when you thought the politically correct “War on Drunk Driving” had reached its limits of absurdity….

Chain Gang for DUI Offenders

Tucson, AZ.  Dec. 12  –  The toughest sheriff in the West is getting even tougher on drunk driving offenders.  Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has created a chain gang of DUI offenders.

The inmates will be easy to spot while cleaning the streets.  He plans to make the convicts wear pink T-shirts that state “Sheriff DUI Chain Gang” in the back and “Clean and Sober” in the front.  Arpaio says this is the first chain gang for these types of offenders.

Just to maintain some perspective here, recent studies have shown that using cell phones while driving is more dangerous than driving while legally intoxicated (see “Alcohol vs Cell Phone: Which is More Dangerous?”).  But it looks like the Sheriff will get MADD’s endorsement in the next election.

Of MADD, Wars and Einstein

For the past decade we have seen increasingly severe punishment for misdemeanor drunk driving offenses, often exceeding those imposed for serious felonies.  Spurred on by MADD's "War on Drunk Driving", this never-ending flood of politically-popular laws has continued to blindly accept the idea that imposing harsher sentences will reduce DUI-caused traffic fatalities.  With each new law, MADD issues press releases trumpeting their latest achievement with promises of an end to the "carnage on the highways" — along with solicitations for contributions to their $51 million annual revenue. 

Has it worked?

NTSB: Nation Stuck in 'Decade-Long Plateau' of Drunk Driving Deaths

Wash., DC.  Nov 1, 2007  –  More needs to be done to get drunk drivers off the nation's streets and highways. That was the message of National Transportation Safety Board Chair Mark V. Rosenker, testifying last week before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality. Addressing the effectiveness of federal drunk driving programs, Rosenker noted that, "while alcohol-related fatalities have decreased since 1982, there has been little improvement in the last 10 years." The nation has been stuck in "a decade-long plateau" where alcohol-related fatalities are concerned, he said.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Maybe it's time for a change….

I have not dealt with 1000s of DUI clients over the years without drawing certain conclusions:

1. The system, clearly, does not work: despite unfair laws, constitutional violations and increasingly harsh penalties, the problem remains…and people continue to die on the highways.

2. Playing games with statistics, as MADD and the government are so fond of doing, only obscures the problem.

3. The problem is not black-and-white, but involves shades of gray. It is convenient to punish anyone with a .08% blood-alcohol concentration, but neither fair nor productive. It is easy to lump all offenders into the same category of “drunk drivers” and simply adjust jail time by a reading on a machine, but neither fair nor productive.

4. You cannot simply identify what the problem is (“drunk drivers are dangerous”), but who the problem is. The problem is not people who drive with .08% BAC or higher, but people who represent a real danger to others on the highway. Who are they?

The problem is the person who severely abuses alcohol and chooses to drive. You can call him an “alcoholic”, but it has been my experience in dealing with those 1000s of clients that there are different kinds of “alcoholics” and that using a simple label is no answer (we do love to put things in neat categories).

Statistics repeatedly show that the vastly disproportionate majority of alcohol-caused injuries and deaths are caused by a few “problem drinkers” (for want of a better term). Thus, the first objective in any solution is to identify these individuals. In my experience, they can usually be identified by a combination of factors:

1. Their blood-alcohol level is not just high — it is very high, say .16% to .30% or more.

2. This is probably not the first DUI — and prior incidents are likely to be relatively recent.

3. There is a genetic flag: the individual is likely to have one or two “alcoholic” parents.

All right, we’ve identified some markers for who the problem is , but what do we do with them? To begin, let’s understand what we don’t do: we don’t hit them with stiff jail sentences. If we do, we simply remove the person from society for a few days or months — and on the day he gets out, he gets in his car and drives directly to a bar. What has been accomplished? Is society being protected — or are we simply punishing people for drinking too much?

Since the punishment model clearly doesn’t work for the problem drinker, we must consider the other criminal justice models: isolation, deterrence and rehabilitation.

1. Isolation. Yes, we can put the problem drinker in jail for a few months or even a few years, and we are safe from him for that period. But can we really afford to house tens of thousands more inmates? For how long? And what happens when they get out? For that matter, given the evidence, aren’t we punishing them for a genetic condition?

2. Deterrence. How do you deter an “alcoholic”?

3. Rehabilitation. Once the favored approach in the criminal justice system, rehabilitation fell into widespread disfavor many years ago. Yet….Yet, this would appear to be the only logical approach with problem drinkers.

Ok, but what about the driver who is not a problem drinker but who is simply impaired from drinking too much? Answer: Treat him like any other misdemeanant. Statistically, we know he is unlikely to cause serious injury or death, but there is undeniably some risk there. Can this individual be deterred from such future conduct? Unlike with the “alcoholic”, statistics show he can. Thus, it may be fair and productive to impose a fine on the typical first-offender, perhaps even suspend his driver’s license for a short period; if a high blood-alcohol level is involved, say .15%, the punishment may include a 2-day jail term. But certainly not the punishments so destructive to families and careers that are now being administered to all caught up in the dragnet.

While we’re at it, a refreshing approach — and a healthy one for society — would be to reinstate constitutional rights in DUI cases: due process, presumptions of guilt, denial of right to counsel, double jeopardy, the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, the right to confront witnesses, 4th Amendment roadblock violations, ad nauseum. (See “The DUI Exception to the Constitution”.)

Does all of this finally solve the drunk driving problem? No: people will always drink and drive. But it will focus on the real threat — the truly dangerous driver — rather than on drinking and driving per se. And, in the process, reinstate the essential fairness and due process that has been slowly removed from the criminal justice system.

Third DUI = Life in Prison

So our prisons are bursting at the seams, killers are getting ten-year sentences, rapists are being cut loose after five, and….drunk drivers are getting life in prison? 

DUI Case: Life Sentence in Prison or


Jackson, MS.  Dec. 6  –  The Associated Press reported in a terse handful of paragraphs Friday that the Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Mark Allen Debrow’s life sentence for a third drunken driving conviction…

Drunks should not be on the road…But life in prison for driving under the influence takes "tough" to a new level.

Admittedly, a person is responsible for his or her behavior, and the consequences of behavior while intoxicated.  But alcoholism itself is a disease, and is generally recognized as such. In this case, Debrow should not have been operating a vehicle.  But do three DUIs constitute criminal behavior meriting life in prison?

With alcoholics, it’s not a question of behavior alone; it’s addiction. Debrow is apparently guilty of addiction. That, in itself, is a life sentence.

The question is how he changes his behavior to counter the addiction (drinking). Otherwise, we are giving a life sentence for a disease.

Criminal behavior should be punished, but, with addiction, punishment should be offered with treatment to change behavior.

This sentence was inappropriate.

 The ladies at MADD must be ecstatic, but at least some of the media finally appears to be getting it.  (For a more realistic approach to dealing with the drunk driving problem, see my previous post "Time for a Change".)

Police Using DUI Roadblocks Illegally

A few years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court found yet another “DUI Exception the Constitution” in permitting police to set up roadblocks — even though they admittedly violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against stopping citizens without probable cause.  See my earlier post DUI Sobriety Checkpoints: Unconstitutional?  The Court, of course, was careful to restrict the use of such roadblocks to apprehension of drunk drivers exclusively.


I predicted that this pathetic Rehnquist decision would prove yet another tool for police to circumvent the Constitution in non-DUI situations — resulting in a continuing erosion of that great document through a growing list of exceptions and word games.  And this has repeatedly proven to be the case.  From yesterday’s news:

Police At DUI Checkpoints Find More Than Drunk Drivers

Johnson County, KY   Dec. 3  — Police at DUI checkpoints in one eastern Kentucky county find more than drunk drivers.

Police say they found marijuana and prescription pills in three un-related cases.  Five suspects are in jail after sheriff deputies say they caught them red-handed with drugs, but some of the suspects put up a fight and tried to escape.

Johnson County Sheriff deputies say they noticed more traffic than usual on Highway 11-07 in Thelma.

After complaints from neighbors, deputies set up a DUI checkpoint to find out what was going on…

Officers call the checkpoint a success, “Nine bags of marijuana were taken off the streets and that means there’s nine bags of marijuana that won’t go into the hands of children in the Thelma area or Johnson County,” Sgt. Wyatt said 

“…deputies set up a DUI checkpoint to find out what was going on”.  And the reporter didn’t even notice anything wrong with that.