The Seacoast Online continues to cover the ongoing debate about the Constitutionality of DWI checkpoints. On one side is the protection of the Fourth Amendment; on the other side is the role of law enforcement to ensure the protection of its citizens.
Proponents of the checkpoints argue that the minor infringement of the Fourth Amendment is worth the greater cause of reducing drunk driving. Clearly this poses as issue when the government decides the degree of which infringements are acceptable.
In 1990, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled DWI roadblocks were in violation of the Fourth Amendment, but in a 6-3 decision, the United States Supreme Court found properly conducted checkpoints to be Constitutional.
So what is a properly conducted checkpoint mean? DWI checkpoints are supposed to be random, and the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration has issued guidelines in an effort to curb overly intrusive behavior on the part of law enforcement. These guidelines and standards from Ingersoll v. Palmer (43 Cal.3d 1321 (1987)) include:
- Decision-making must be at a supervisory level, rather than by officers in the field.
- A neutral formula must be used to select vehicles to be stopped, such as every vehicle or every third vehicle, rather than leaving it up the officer in the field.
- Primary consideration must be given to public and officer safety.
- The site should be selected by policy-making officials, based upon areas having a high incidence of drunk driving.
- Limitations on when the checkpoint is to be conducted and for how long, bearing in mind both effectiveness and intrusiveness.
- Warning lights and signs should be clearly visible.
- Length of detention of motorists should be minimized.
- Advance publicity is necessary to reduce the intrusiveness of the checkpoint and increase its deterrent effect.
The reduction of drunk driving is an admirable cause, and you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't support educational efforts. Law enforcement, rehabilitation programs and national education efforts are helping to educate Americans about the reality of drunk driving.
Fortunately, these drunk-driving reduction efforts have had a positive impact. The national percentage of alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities has declined from 60 percent in 1982 to 37 percent in 2007. On a state level, New Hampshire has a slightly higher rate; 40 percent of all automobile fatalities are alcohol-related.
As the debate moves forward, I hope a proper balance remains between Constitutionality and safety. The moment an individual's rights are taken away in an effort to “protect citizens” is the moment our government has stepped beyond its boundaries and become a police state.