Wednesday, January 9, 2008

DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI spot roadblocks?

California DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI lawyer news

Should state Legislatures authorize DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI police to set up DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI sobriety spot checks, a DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI practice unseen in Washington since the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1988?

Washington Governor Gregoire on Monday called upon residents to be "team" players in the state's fight to save lives by accepting the proposed incursion on their driving rights, comparing the traffic stops to security checks at airports and courthouses.

"The fact of the matter is it's a different day than it was 20 years ago," she said at a news conference at Lynnwood's Meadowdale High School, where the checkpoint procedures were demonstrated. "It is literally a partnership with every single citizen to make sure our roadways are safe."

The proposed DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI bill's provisions include:

• An agency's chief law-enforcement officer would be required to obtain a warrant from a Superior Court judge to conduct DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI sobriety checkpoints scheduled for specific locations, dates and times.

• The public would be notified in advance of the DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI checkpoints.

• Either all vehicles or a designated sequence — such as every fourth vehicle — would be stopped.

• DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI Checkpoints would be set up only in areas with a statistically proven high incidence of accidents involving drugs or alcohol.

Doug Honig, American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state spokesman, said his organization will look to the Legislature to kill the proposal.

"Our courts have found that to stop a motorist without any suspicion that the person is doing something wrong is unconstitutional. It interferes with the right of law-abiding people to travel," he said. "Our hope would be that the people in the Legislature would take a look at the proposal and say the intentions may be good, but it interferes with people's rights."

The ACLU strongly prefers the increased use of DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI drunken-driving emphasis patrols, which State Patrol and local police have been using with greater frequency in recent years.

"That's a legal way to address this concern," Honig said. "If they are pulling people over for driving in a way that appears unsafe, certainly they have the authority."

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 upheld a Michigan DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI checkpoint program, saying motorists' privacy rights were not violated. Legal analysts at that time said the federal ruling did not affect Washington, because the state constitution provides stronger protections that limit police searches.

Thirty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, allow spot checks to catch DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI drunken drivers, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

The national organization in November released a "state progress" report card ranking Washington 40th in the nation in its efforts to eliminate DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI drunken driving. The rankings were based upon the percentage of fatal accidents in 2006 that involved a DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI drunken driver.

Washington's 225 DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI drunken-driving fatalities represented 36 percent of all fatal traffic accidents in the state, MADD reported. Utah was in the No. 1 spot, with 19 percent, based on 54 alcohol-related traffic deaths.

Previous bills to authorize various forms of DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI sobriety checkpoints failed to pass the Legislature several times in the early 1990s.

The state's 1988 case stemmed from Seattle police DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI roadblocks during the 1983-84 Christmas and New Year's holiday season. The Supreme Court found the program violated a state constitutional provision against illegal search and seizure.

But Justice James Dolliver, who participated in the majority decision, wrote in his concurring opinion that the program might be constitutional if it were authorized by statute.

Gregoire said her proposed bill fits Dolliver's criteria.

The state Attorney General's Office helped craft the proposed bill, Gregoire said. It will be introduced in the state House by Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor.

"If this does not make constitutional muster, then nothing will allow us to have this tool in our toolbox without changing our constitution," she said.

Gregoire on Monday was flanked by a range of supporters, including State Patrol Chief John Batiste; Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick; Snohomish County Prosecutor Janice Ellis; state Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, D-Lynnwood; and representatives from MADD and the Traffic Safety Commission.

The national and Pacific Northwest MADD organizations are targeting DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI sobriety checkpoints and stricter laws for ignition interlocks as legislative priorities this year.

"Sobriety checkpoints work. The Centers for Disease Control says that in states where they have DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI sobriety checkpoints, impaired driving crashes are usually 20 percent less than in states where they don't," said Judy Eakin, executive director of MADD's Northwest region.

If the legislation were to pass, a legal challenge probably would be filed by attorneys representing drivers arrested at a DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI checkpoint, Honig said. At that point, the ACLU could file a "friend of the court" brief to support the case.

When Washington Governor Chris Gregoire was explaining on Monday her rationale behind her new security checkpoint program, she pointed out that we already have security stops and checks at courthouses and airports. In many of those places, we do; and the proposed expansion of governmental stops and checks of citizens who are minding their own business and violating no law is one of the exact reasons we disapprove of them so much. Where will the quest for “safety” and “security” lead us next? How much more thoroughly will the Fourth Amendment be eviscerated in the name of keeping people safe?

Not that intoxicated driving, the intended target here, is a small thing; it is a substantial killer. But the heightened penalties and law enforcement watches for drunken drivers, and improved public awareness, have had positive effect: There’s been a general decline in DUI over the last couple of decades. Much of what’s been done has worked, and a variety of non-intrusive options not much use so far should be. Technology, from ignition locks to portable breathalyzers and beyond, not to mention improved efforts against alcoholism, can help further. When she said that “The fact of the matter is it’s a different day than it was 20 years ago,” she’s right: The problem is less extreme than it was then, and we have much better options now than we did then.

The freedom to travel from place to place without being stopped by government authorities - absent some specific reason why you should be - is core and central to freedom in America. Every one of these generalized stops and checkpoints of people undermines that, a point courts generally have upheld over the years, including courts in Washington when this kind of idea was proposed in the last decade.

We think this is a lousy idea even if it works as intended, but we doubt that it will. Cops spending their time stopping and checking every driver (or every random fourth, or whatever it is) who are doing nothing wrong, are cops not checking on particularized violations (of DUI or whatever) somewhere else.

Beyond that, the procedure will make these stops pretty easy for drunks to avoid. From Gregoire’s office: “The proposed legislation would require law enforcement to apply for a warrant to conduct an administrative sobriety checkpoint in their county. The application would have stringent guidelines including information like geographic locations and checkpoint specifics.” This would be public: The proposed legislation says specifically that the public will be notified prior to the checkpoints being set up. You can imagine that among the drinking crowd, word will spread. The rest of us, less motivated to track these things, may be stopped disproportionately.

And for DUI exclusively? You can see this coming: Agencies will want to piggyback other agendas on top of this one, just as the Patriot Act, supposedly solely an anti-terrorist measure, has been used much more for other purposes. Have no doubt, if this approach takes affect, it will happen. Where it will end, where its practical limits will be, remain unclear.

What this most specifically would accomplish would get Americans ever more accustomed another stop and search routine of them by their government. And that is how the fourth amendment, and the sense of what it is to live in a free country, gets gradually whittled away.

California DUI attorneys are watching this DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI news.