The Conflict of Sobriety Checkpoints
Over the years there have been conflicting opinions about DUI/DWI checkpoints with both sides providing very solid reasoning for their stance. Sobriety checkpoints have been a hot-button topic over the years, and with the holidays upon us, they are in full view. Many feel the checkpoints or roadblocks are unconstitutional, and some state legislatures feel that way too.
Each of these states either asserts that DUI checkpoints are unconstitutional, illegal, or there is no state authority to do so, while the remaining 38 states allow for some form of a sobriety checkpoint.
Alaska, Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, Rhode Island, Washington, Wyoming
Additionally, the checkpoints mostly don’t arrest people for DUI. The majority of arrests at these stops tend to be for driving without a license, being in the country illegally (especially in California), and having outstanding warrants.
However, on June 14, 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional under federal law and there are many around the country that feel these checkpoints are necessary. Families affected by drunk drivers and groups like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) along with various others across the country are major proponents of the current federal sobriety checkpoint law.
Members from MADD assert that visibility checkpoints are mostly there to serve as a deterrent to drunk drivers. They feel the general public will drink less before getting behind the wheel or not drink at all.
Cost of Sobriety Checkpoints
Then there is the debate about the cost-effectiveness of DUI/DWI checkpoints.
The cost-effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints along with where states allocate the funds received for this purpose from the federal government is another issue up for debate.
The pinnacle costs are used to pay for each police officer’s time and the enforcement agencies publicity. Each officer involved in the checkpoint works for several hours during the operation and many of them are being paid overtime.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), costs can be cut down if they reduce the number of police officers on sobriety detail from 10-12 to about 3-5. The NHTSA also states that in two West Virginia counties DUI arrests were 70 percent lower when they used a weekly program with “lower staffed” sobriety checkpoints than the typical “higher staffed” program.
Some argue that these checkpoints are used solely for the purpose of boosting state revenue and if they so just so happen to arrest someone for DUI in the meantime, well that’s icing on the cake.
California Watch along with UC Berkeley estimated in 2009 that $40 million was collected in police fines and towing fees from sobriety checkpoints, while police officers received an estimated $30 million in overtime pay.
According to a report combining 23 scientific studies conducted by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) checkpoints reduce alcohol-related crashes by about 20 percent while the CDC also states that sobriety checkpoints can potentially prevent 1 out of every 10 deaths caused by drunk driving accidents.
Should Minnesota get on the DWI bandwagon and implement dwi checkpoints or say no thank you and exit stage left?
Joshua Merrick is a freelance writer who writes specifically on law issues, including criminal defense issues.