Sunday, December 7, 2008

Provo Daily Herald Editorial Debate: Static DUI Sobriety Checkpoints Vs. Roving Saturation Patrols; Which Is More Effective And Less Intrusive?

On Friday December 5th, 2008, the Provo Daily Herald editorially weighed in on the question of DUI enforcement. In a column entitled "Checking our rights", they addressed the two most popular tools of preemptive enforcement on our streets; static DUI sobriety checkpoints vs. roving saturation patrols.

The column is accompanied by a poll which asks readers their opinion about sobriety checks. Unfortunately, out of 185 respondents, 144 or 77.8 percent approve of the use of checkpoints as of this post.

While many law enforcement agencies approve of "sobriety checkpoints", where all vehicles are stopped and drivers checked, citing them as an effective way of keeping drunk drivers off the roads, many civil libertarians warn that they are a waste of police resources and a danger to our freedoms.

On the basis of both constitutionality and efficiency, the Herald leans towards using saturation patrols rather than static checkpoints. You can read the full editorial column HERE. Here's part of their justification:

- An overview of 32 studies on checkpoints and similar efforts found no convincing evidence that checkpoints work. The checkpoints actually collar relatively few drunk drivers. In many jurisdictions, less than one percent of those stopped are charged with DUI; and of those, often only a minority are ultimately convicted. [Ed. Note: I've seen advance notices of intended checkpoints posted in the Salt Lake Tribune, which specify the time and location of the checkpoint. This allows people to avoid the checkpoint, drunks included. Seems self-defeating.]

- Research shows that roving saturation patrols bring DUI charges 10 times more often than checkpoints do.

- The American Beverage Institute claims that while a roadblock has an average cost of $8,000, a roving patrol of two officers costs only about $300.

But when confronted with these common sense statistics, advocates of sobriety checkpoints suddenly want to disregard the stats, since they don't "prove" their point. Advocates of checkpoints will claim the number of DUI charges isn't the point. The idea is that the checkpoints are well publicized and highly visible, and play a role in reminding drivers to stop after that first drink. [Ed. Note: The Daily Herald fails to mention that another reason used for justification by checkpoint proponents is that other offenders, such as people with outstanding warrants, drug offenders, escaped convicts, and even illegal aliens have been nabbed at such checkpoints. But this still begs the question - are the numbers apprehended sufficiently large to justify the risk to civil liberties?]

Utahns aren't the only ones who approve of the checkpoints. Other polls nationwide indicate that most Americans consider the roadblocks worthwhile. But civil libertarians believe the DUI roadblocks pose a significant danger to our rights -- such as the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the roadblocks were constitutional. But that ruling, by a divided court, has been lambasted as finding a "DUI exception" to the Constitution.

Sobriety checkpoints are primary enforcement which presumes guilt. The premise is that all motorists are assumed to be inebriated until they prove otherwise. This is contrary to the traditional American presumption of innocence. In contrast, saturation patrols constitute secondary enforcement. You must first be observed to be behaving in a suspicious manner before you're pulled over and asked to prove your sobriety. This concept better reflects the presumption of innocence.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is the leading advocacy proponent of sobriety checkpoints. According to MADD, 16,000 people across the U.S. died in alcohol-related crashes in 2006. Of those fatalities, 63 were in Utah. That relatively small number suggests that Utah has a limited problem, and the number of fatalities has been trending downward. MADD enables you to find out about all states' DUI laws HERE.

But is MADD merely about public safety and driver inebriation, or are they evolving into a neo-prohibitionist organization? Signs indicate the latter to be a distinct possibility. For example, MADD now promotes the idea of ignition interlocks - but not merely on vehicles operated by convicted multiple DUI offenders. They want to require interlocks even for first-time offenders, and there's talk about pushing for interlocks to be factory-installed on all new vehicles, once again presuming that every driver is a drunk until he or she proves otherwise. Interlocks should be voluntary for first-time simple DUI offenders (unaccompanied by an accident or other violation), in which the offender agrees to interlock in exchange for mitigation of other penalties, and mandatory for first-time aggravated DUI offenders and multiple offenders.

In addition, the DAMM-MADD website documents how MADD relentlessly strives to broaden the definition of drunk drivers so that even responsible moderate social drinkers can get caught up in the enforcement web. In fact, the neo-prohibitionist influence in MADD has become so pervasive that the organization's founder, Candice Lightner, quit the organization after she found that many MADD leaders were calling for the criminalization of all driving after drinking any amount of alcoholic beverage. Lightner stated that MADD "has become far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned … I didn't start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving".

And if you think MADD is bad news, here's another organization that makes MADD look like a beverage lobby. The organization is called RID-USA (Remove Intoxicated Drivers), and they're truly radical. They want to lower the BAC limit to .05 nationwide, and that's just for first-time offenders. And they're not just a group of marginal cranks; they have chapters in 41 states.

Visit attorney Lawrence Taylor's DUI Blog, where he's published four years worth of documentation of Americans abused in the name of "DUI enforcement".

Commentary: If I get waved over into a checkpoint because police are looking for an escaped convict or missing child, I would have absolutely no objection to the stop. The recovery of an escaped con or missing child is vital to the public interest, and I am willing to inconvenience myself for the sake of the public interest.

But to wave me over into a checkpoint simply because some fat-assed battleaxe from an unelected watchdog group is paranoid that I might be drunk - that's unacceptable. I see no reason to force me to cater to someone's personal paranoia.

If this type of DUI enforcement is absolutely necessary, it's better we go with roving saturation patrols. They are more behavior-oriented, more efficient, cost less money, and better protect law-abiding citizens against institutional harassment.

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