It goes without saying that there are more drunk drivers on the road during the holiday season. Some counties like those in Southern California are increasing patrols and DUI checkpoints. Palm Beach County, however, is offering a $100 reward for reporting a drunk driver as part of its holiday DUI crackdown.
“It gives law enforcement additional eyes on the road,” said the spokeswoman for the Safety Council of the Palm Beaches, Donna Bryan. “Everyone should have an interest in getting impaired drivers off the roads because it could be someone who hits your loved one.”
Palm Beach’s Mobile Eyes program has been operating since 2001 and has reportedly led to hundreds of DUI arrests. But recently, the program was promoted as a way to earn a little extra holiday cash this season.
To most this seems like a win-win situation. Drunk drivers are taken off the road and the person responsible for the arrest earns themselves $100 for the holidays.
So what’s the problem with rewards for reporting drunk drivers?
I’m sure Palm Beach County officials report exactly how many actual drunk drivers are arrested as a result of the program. But I highly doubt they report how many innocent people were stopped and investigated for a possible DUI as a result of the program.
Although well-intentioned, the program encourages people to call 911 on drivers who may or may not be driving drunk simply because there is the possibility of receiving $100. And, what’s more, these people have absolutely no personal knowledge that the driver is actually drunk.
Unfortunately, people are not reporting drunk driving. They’re reporting driving errors, any of which can be interpreted as drunk driving. Everybody makes mistakes while driving. In fact, it might be fair to say that no driving excursion is flawless. This necessarily means that everyone on the road is a target of Mobile Eyes and anyone can be arrested on suspicion of DUI simply because someone else could make $100 for reporting a mistake.
Ok, so someone calls 911 to report a possible drunk driver. Does the tip give law enforcement the right to stop a driver when the officers, themselves, saw nothing to indicate that the driver is driving drunk?
According to the United States Supreme Court, the answer is yes.
In the case of Navarette v. California, the United States Supreme Court held that an anonymous tip gives law enforcement the authority to pull someone over on suspicion of driving under the influence. This is true even though it is impossible to verify the reliability of the tip and the officer has not witnessed any driving that would indicate intoxication.
In his dissent, Justice Scalia voiced the same concerns I expressed above:
“Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference. To prevent and detect murder we do not allow searches without probable cause or targeted Terry stops without reasonable suspicion. We should not do so for drunken driving either. After today’s opinion all of us on the road…are at risk of having our freedom of movement curtailed on suspicion of drunkenness, based upon a phone tip, true or false, of a single instance of careless driving.”
After the Navarette decision, not only is it acceptable to assist law enforcement in violating the Constitution, now in Palm Beach County, we’re actually rewarding people for doing so.