Utah lawmakers propose ban on DUI checkpoints

UPDATED: Feb. 29, 2012 11 a.m. – to include statement from MADD representative, received post initial publication.

SALT LAKE CITY – Last week, Utah’s House of Representatives narrowly passed House Bill 140 that would stop law enforcement agencies from conducting DUI checkpoints. While the bill still faces a tough battle in the state Senate, should it become law, police in Utah will no longer have the authority to randomly stop drivers at checkpoints and perform DUI tests.

In most cases police cannot pull people over unless they have a reason to suspect wrongdoing. Checkpoints are controversial because they allow police to pull over vehicles at random intervals without first establishing probable cause, raising concerns that such checkpoints amount to an invasion of privacy for the vast majority of sober drivers.

In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged these concerns, but went on to state that the government has a “grave and legitimate” interest in stopping impaired drivers. Ultimately, the court ruled that DUI checkpoints do not violate citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights.

Art Brown, president of the Utah chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, believes that the checkpoints are an important tool for law enforcement. “The CDC and the National Transportation Safety Board recommend that we hold checkpoints,” he said. “We think it is a great option and we don’t want to see it taken off the table.”

Locally, state representatives came out strongly against the proposed ban on DUI checkpoints: Bradley Last,  Evan Vickers,  V. Lowry Snow and Don Ipson all voted against the ban; while among Southern Utah representatives, only Michael Noel and Christine Watkins supported the measure.

Residents of Washington County are split on the matter. “I don’t drink and drive,” said St. George native, Justin Aiken, “I’m more worried that a checkpoint will make me late for work than the remote possibility I’ll encounter a drunk driver.” Dixie College student Shane Brown disagrees. “I’ve gone through checkpoints before in Arizona, and it usually takes less than a minute before you’re on your way. If you aren’t drinking and driving, you don’t have anything to hide.”

However, sometimes even law-abiding citizens can face major inconveniences at checkpoints, said Ogden defense attorney Glen Neely. While Neely can’t speak about specific cases, he claimed that many of his clients have been unjustly charged with impaired driving at DUI checkpoints.

“Say it’s late at night,” said Neely, “and a driver who has been working late goes through a checkpoint and has bloodshot eyes because he’s tired.” Even if such a person passes a Breathalyzer test at the scene, he said, an officer might suspect drug use. “They have to give him a blood test. That takes a couple of weeks to come back, so they charge him with DUI based on those observations.” Even if a person is ultimately vindicated by their blood test, simply being charged with a DUI can be quite expensive. “Number one, he’s been taken to jail; number two, his car has been impounded; number three, he’s had to bail out of jail; number four, he’s had to hire and attorney and pay attorney feels. All of this happens before the case eventually gets resolved and dismissed. It happens every day.”

Regardless of how you feel about sobriety checkpoints, they aren’t something you’re likely to encounter in Washington County. “In my thirty-year career, I only remember doing two or three DUI checkpoints,” said Sgt. Craig Harding of the St. George Police Department. While the Utah Highway Patrol often conducts DUI checkpoints in Washington County during holiday weekends, the SGPD typically utilizes saturation patrols. “We just look at behavior. We look at driving patterns and accidents,” Harding said, “even when we do DUI enforcement night, we don’t utilize checkpoints. We just go out and we hunt for them.”


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Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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  • Track Record February 29, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Thank you Mr. Harding for once again showing us SGPD’s stance on objectionable surveillance and badgering of civilians. Mr. Harding claims DUI check points are not needed here as if you happen to be driving past 9 PM on a weekend then that’s all the suspicion that is needed for a field interrogation. I’ve recently inherited an El Camino from a passed family member and I’ve been followed and pulled over more times then I’m comfortable with after simply trying to get home from work late at night, around 12. It’s been almost clockwork watching two separate patrollers drive past me one after the other on Valley View (with no other cars around) and I almost always get the attention of one of them.

    How many accidents/deaths/injuries have there been in STG fueled by DUI? Not many, but looking at the booking page makes one believe it’s an epidemic. Just more nonsense of how we must submit ourselves to overpolicing the public from alcohol in this blimey state.

  • David March 2, 2012 at 7:34 am

    Checkpoints don’t work. Saturation patrols always work better. Checkpoints are also not a deterrent to drunk driving. Here is a partial list of research.

    1. The Maryland anti-drunk driving campaign called Checkpoint Strikeforce was evaluated for deterrence. The review found that there was no deterrent effect:

    “To date, there is no evidence to indicate that this campaign, which involves a number of sobriety checkpoints and media activities to promote these efforts, has had any impact on public perceptions, driver behaviors, or alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and injuries. This conclusion is drawn after examining statistics for alcohol-related crashes, police citations for impaired driving, and public perceptions of alcohol-impaired driving risk. (Source: Health Promotion Reports, July 1 2009)

    2.The FBI compared saturation patrols vs. checkpoints in Ohio, Missouri, and Tennessee. The study showed that, “Overall, measured in arrests per hour, a dedicated saturation patrol is the most effective method of apprehending offenders.” (Source: FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, January 2003)

    3. “I’m no big fan of them,” Chief Deputy Pat Butler [Ohio County, West Virginia] said about checkpoints. “They’re OK for informational purposes, but I think DUI saturation patrols are much more effective.” (Source: Kansas City Star, July 8, 2008) See other quotes at http://abionline.org/checkpoints.cfm.

    4. “States with infrequent checkpoints claimed a lack of funding and police resources for not conducting more checkpoints, preferred saturation patrols over checkpoints because they were more “productive,” and used large number of police officers at checkpoints.” (Source: Accident Analysis and Prevention, November 2003)

    5. “If you look at statistics, statistics will probably tell you a saturation patrol is more successful…” said Lt. David Kloos, barrack commander for the Maryland State Police Hagerstown barrack. A typical checkpoint uses about 10 troopers for five hours and costs about $2,000, he said. During the last State Police checkpoint in Hagerstown, held Oct. 31, troopers stopped 880 cars and made three DUI arrests, Kloos said. Saturation patrols watching alternate routes around the checkpoint made one additional DUI arrest, he said. A saturation patrol without a checkpoint requires only three or four troopers and costs a fraction of what a checkpoint costs. The troopers work four hours of overtime, usually from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m., and each aims to make three to four stops per hour, Kloos said. (Source: Hagerstown Herald Mail December 28 2008)

    6. A checkpoint in Tucson Arizona yielded a less than one percent arrest rate. A total of 571 vehicles passed the checkpoint, with 4 DUI arrests, a rate of 7/10 of one percent. (Source: Pima County Sheriff’s Document October 5 2005)

    7. Saturation patrols vs. checkpoints in Worcester County Maryland, August 27, 2010:

    Sobriety Checkpoint:

    739 cars

    0 DWI arrests

    Arrest rate: 0%

    Roving Patrol:

    32 cars

    2 DWI arrests

    Arrest rate: 8%

    Source: http://www.delmarvanow.com August 29, 2010

    8. There was a relatively recent informal poll of Washingtonians. It overwhelmingly rejected checkpoints.

    From trafficsafetyinfo.net:

    Gov. Chris Gregoire’s plan to institute checkpoints to catch drunk drivers has stalled in Olympia. Judging by the results of an online poll by the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force, local residents wouldn’t have taken too kindly to it either.

    From Traffic Safety Coordinator Doug Dahl:

    Two weeks ago our online poll asked Whatcom County drivers if they wanted sobriety checkpoints in our state. Visitors to our site overwhelmingly voted “NO” to DUI checkpoints. The final results were as follows:

    yes: 20% (30 votes)

    no: 80% (117 votes)

    Some people who responded also included an e-mail explaining their point of view. You can read those responses at http://www.trafficsafetyinfo.com.

    Update: The recent checkpoint bill in Washington failed February 2011.

    9. By some estimates, police fail to detect signs of impairment in one-half of drivers with blood alcohol concentrations higher than the legal limit, so sobriety checkpoints are hardly foolproof. McKnight and Voas, 2001—“Prevention of Alcohol-Related Road Crashes” In International Handbook of Alcohol Dependence and Problems, Chicester (United Kingdom): Wiley

    Also in:

    “Drinking drivers missed at sobriety checkpoints” Journal of Studies on Alcohol; v. 58; pages 513-517; JK wells; MA Greene; RD Foss; SA Ferguson; AF Williams; 1997

    10. Checkpoints bills were handily defeated last year in Washington, Oregon, and Texas. The current proposal in Wisconsin is likely to fail due to lack of sponsorship.

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