Category Archives: Sobriety Checkpoints

Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood…

The War on Drunk Driving continues:

Fresno Cracks Down on DUI

Fresno, Calif. Dec. 21 — Police in Fresno are throwing up roadblocks, conducting stakeouts and using night-vision goggles, satellite tracking devices and video cameras in an extraordinary crackdown aimed not at terrorists or drug lords, but at drunken drivers…

Fresno's attack on drunken driving has been called the nation's best by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Mothers Against Drunk Driving has pronounced it "among the most aggressive in the nation." Among other things, Fresno police are putting undercover officers near bars to watch for drinkers stumbling to their cars. They are setting up multiple drunken-driving checkpoints, sometimes even on weeknights. And they are surreptitiously planting Global Positioning System devices on the cars of convicted drunken drivers to monitor whether they are going to bars or liquor stores in violation of their probation or parole.

Officers are using night-vision goggles and cameras to keep track of about 150 people who have been convicted of serious DUI offenses. The terms of their parole or probation often allow officers to search their homes at any time for evidence they have been drinking, and they can be re-arrested should police find alcohol there, no matter who bought it. "It comes down to what's more important: living in that residence or having alcohol in the home," Van Wyhe said. "We have to keep them away from that temptation. If they're having a bad night, they could take to it again."

Sounds a lot like Germany in the '30s.

Vigilante Roadblocks?

I've mentioned in the past about roadblocks partially staffed by MADD volunteers, and even a few run by MADD independent of the police. The evolution of DUI roadblocks continues:

Relatives of victims help at DUI checkpoints

Hilo, HI. Dec. 19 – Students and relatives of DUI victims will be helping Big Island police this week and next at DUI checkpoints.

Police said one checkpoint will be set up in Pahoa with students from Pahoa High School and students from the newly-established University Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (UMADD)…

Sounds like a calm, impartial and professional law enforcement operation.

New DUI Roadblock Tactics

Ever vigilant in the war on drunk driving, the California Highway Patrol is experimenting with interesting new new sobriety checkpoint tactics.

But Roadblocks Work, Right?

In my post yesterday concerning seatbelt roadblocks, I mentioned the Supreme Court's approval of DUI roadblocks on the grounds that the Fourth Amendment was outweighed by the Government's interest in reducing the "slaughter on our highways".

I've received a number of replies saying, essentially, "Well, at least they are saving lives, right?".


Question: If DUI roadblocks are so effective, why have the Government's own "alcohol-related fatality" figures remained essentially unchanged for the past ten years — since shortly after the Court gave law enforcement the go-ahead? When the U.S. Supreme Court in Michigan v. Sitz decided to ignore the Constitution, it was reversing a Michigan Supreme Court decision which found that DUI roadblocks were a Fourth Amendment violation. As the dissenting justices in the Sitz decision noted, the Michigan decision was based upon studies which concluded that

…the net effect of sobriety checkpoints on traffic safety is infinitesimal and possibly negative. Indeed, the record in this case makes clear that a decision holding these suspicionless seizures unconstitutional would not impede the law enforcement community's remarkable progress in reducing the death toll on our highways.

Ironically, then, that "remarkable progress" appears to have actually come to a halt shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court approved the use of roadblocks.

(Note: When the Sitz case was sent back to Michigan, that state's Supreme Court again reversed the conviction, this time on the grounds that DUI roadblocks violated the state constitution. As of today, eleven states protect their citizens from roadblocks.)

And Now….Seat Belt Roadblocks

You knew it was coming:

Chicago, IL Nov. 20 – For the first time in Illinois, local and state law enforcement officers will have nighttime seatbelt enforcement zones to ensure that drivers are buckling up, the Illinois Department of Transportation announced Tuesday.

The department's division of traffic safety will pay $1 million in overtime to police officers enforcing the state's seat belt law…

This year, 204 law enforcement agencies around Illinois will set up 360 nighttime seat belt enforcement zones around the holidays, in addition to 658 zones set up during the daytime. Officers will operate the zones much like alcohol checkpoints and will look at whether drivers are wearing seat belts.

You may recall my previous discussion of the U.S. Supreme Court's narrow decision in Michigan v. Sitz wherein DUI roadblocks (or, more politically correct, "sobriety checkpoints") were constitutionally challenged. Chief Justice Rehnquist admitted that they constituted searches in apparent violation of the Fourth Amendment, but concluded that this was just a "minimal intrusion" into our rights which was outweighed by the fact that "The increasing slaughter on our highways . . . now reaches the astounding figures only heard of on the battlefield".

And after seat belts, what next? Registration and proof of insurance? Identification roadblocks? Don't laugh: the Supreme Court has twice already said that "a similar roadblock to verify driver's licenses and registrations would be permissible to serve a highway safety interest". 

So where does it stop? This is what is known in the legal trade as precedent, also known as "opening the door": it does not stop.

(Thanks to Radley Balko at Reason .)