Joshua Merrick*

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.

The Answers?

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?

Author –
Joshua Merrick is a freelance writer who writes specifically on law issues, including criminal defense issues.

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3 Comments

  • James C. Walker
    December 31, 2017

    Roadblocks that stop mostly innocent drivers with no warrants and no probable cause to believe that any particular drivers have done anything wrong are an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment against improper search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment should be read literally in its plain language. The Supreme Court case that permits stopping mostly innocent drivers on fishing expeditions that find only a tiny percentage of violators was decided wrongly and needs to be reversed. I and many others have lived and worked in countries with the hated and offensive “Papers Please” police roadblock system. We should NOT permit any form of this despicable practice in the United States. Note that the Michigan Supreme Court does not allow sobriety checkpoints in Michigan, even though the federal ruling was from a Michigan case.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • James C. Walker
    January 1, 2018

    Roadblocks that stop mostly innocent drivers with no warrants and no probable cause to believe that any particular drivers have done anything wrong are an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment against improper search and seizure. The Supreme Court case that permits stopping mostly innocent drivers on fishing expeditions that find only a tiny percentage of violators was decided wrongly and needs to be reversed. I have lived and worked in countries with the hated and offensive “Papers Please” police roadblock system. We should NOT permit any form of it in the United States. Note that the Michigan Supreme Court does not allow sobriety checkpoints in Michigan, even though the federal ruling was from a Michigan case.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

    • Louis Bouchard
      January 6, 2018

      In order to change Minnesota’s law, the lawmakers will have to to the voters since the concept of roadblocks are unconstitutional (which means the constitution itself needs to change). I am hoping that us Minnesota voters would be smart enough to see what this is and turn our back on programs like this.

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