Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Atrocity at Home

You're driving down the highway, and, up ahead you see flashing red and blue lights. The traffic slows to a standstill, and you wait in line, wondering if there are prison escapees or other criminal fugitives in the area. When you finally get to the roadblock, a man with a badge and a gun approaches your window, and says "Show me your license and registration, please."
As you collect the required documents the "public safety" officer takes a visual look around inside your car, and you realize that it is you they are looking for.
What, you may wonder, is the reason for this detention and search? Where is the probable cause?
The government charges that the probable cause is that you are driving a car, and that you might, therefore, be driving while intoxicated, under the influence, or that you may be using or transporting illegal or illicit substances in the passenger compartment of your vehicle.
Of course, the government may find probable cause in everything you do. If you are walking down the street, you may be eluding arrest, because, if you have nothing to hide, why aren't you driving a car? If you are living by yourself, you could be a social deviant. If you are living and breathing, you might plotting to kill someone. There is plenty of probable cause, when the criteria are so vague.
In the states--all but eleven--that utilize these sobriety check points, the ratio of actual DWI offenders to innocent detainees is approximately less than one in 800, according to Barry Noreen of the Colorado Springs Gazette.
Noreen comments on the questionable constitutionality of sobriety check points:
In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional, and that remains the law of the land, even though the Fourth Amendment supposedly protects citizens from being detained without probable cause.

Is it conceivable the high court could be wrong? Remember, a unanimous court once upheld the internment camps for Americans of Japanese ancestry. In Plessy v. Ferguson, it created the “separate-but-equal” justification for racial segregation.
Sure, the Supreme Court could be wrong again.

In 1990, the court defended checkpoints where the average delay for innocent citizens was 25 seconds. Today, the Colorado Springs Police Department’s Web site says three minutes is an acceptable guideline.

It’s hardly reassuring that the Bill of Rights will be suspended for just three minutes.

The return to the State harvested from the sobriety check points is too low to justify the cost in time and money. Law enforcement resources are being mishandled in manning these check points.
Wouldn't it be easier to catch DWI offenders by patrolling traffic and looking for such tell-tale signs as excessive weaving, erratic turns, speeding, excessively slow driving, or running stop lights or stop signs? Just because a person is in a car, doesn't mean that he or she is irresponsible for his or her actions, any more than living and breathing means that we could commit a crime.


Dr. T said...

Not to mention that from a purely practical standpoint that the police catch more DWI's on nights without the checkpoints than on nights with them. It seems to have something to do with the fact that people learn where the checkpoints are, and avoid them, while the police are all tied up at the checkpoints.

This is aside from the fact that it is possible that DWI laws cause more accidents. I had an economics professor point out that this could be the case since drunk drivers would, without the law, probably drive slower, knowing they are intoxicated. But slow drivers are an indication they could be intoxicated, so police pull them over. Thus, drink drivers drive the speed limit -- faster than they should -- so police won't pick them out. Thus, going faster than is safe, they have more, and worse, accidents.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully they're trying to put an end to illegal immigrants driving drunk, which take an average of 13 American lives each day.

MaTi said...

I think Dr T got it about right. I have been behind drivers who, as soon as they noticed there was a check point ahead, made a tricky U-turn in the middle of the road to avoid it. Someone should do a study of the traffic violations performed by those fleeing the site of a check point as opposed to how many drunk drivers those check points actually catch.

phlembol said...

You are absolutely right to bring this up. It is wrong to treat us this way. How long before they start going door-to-door inspecting our bedrooms for contraband? Freedom must be guarded against incremental infringements like this.

Anonymous said...

I didn't understand the concluding part of your article, could you please explain it more?