Driving under the Influence of alcohol can lead to road accidents and in some cases these accidents are fatal, as a result authorities in certain states have established DWI checkpoints in the form of roadblocks placed on roadways in areas with high DWI offense rates. The purpose of these roadblocks is for officers to observe clear signs of driver impairment. This makes it easier for officers to stop vehicles and evaluate drivers suspected of being intoxicated, and evaluate their capability to drive by asking them to perform field sobriety tests.
Utah House Votes to Outlaw DWI Roadblocks
Soon Utah will possibly be the 13th state to prohibit police officers from closing roadways to conduct searches on motorists without suspicion. Last month, the state Senate of Utah started to consider legislation that would ban the setup of roadblocks for the purpose of arresting individuals of driving while impaired and issuing tickets to individuals with expired paperwork. The votes came up 41 to 33.
This is a bill by Senate Representative David Butterfield who believes that removing checkpoints and assigning officers into saturation patrols instead will better uphold the constitutional protections of the residents against unreasonable searches, which will be a more effective law enforcement. However, the bill does include the permission for roadblocks, but only if a checkpoint is authorized by an arrest warrant or search warrant that’s targeted against a certain individual. Checkpoints can also be set up during emergency situations, or when conducting searches for invasive wildlife species.
Interestingly enough the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration accident data backs up Utah’s stance and shows that there’s no difference in alcohol-related death rates between the states without roadblocks and the states conducting regular checkpoints.
Minnesota Currently Prohibits the Setup of Roadblocks
Currently, 12 states prohibit the use of roadblocks. These states are Alaska, Iowa, Idaho, Minnesota, Michigan, Montana, Rhode Island, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington, and Wyoming. Minnesota, along with 11 other states, consider the checkpoints unconstitutional and it doesn’t have any plans of legalizing roadblocks in the state.
Minnesota and other states opposed to checkpoints point to the fact that states that legalize checkpoints have yet to prove the effectiveness of these roadblocks in terms of statistics. The primary purpose of the checkpoints is to check for intoxicated drivers. However, a great deal of uproar has been reported because many officers have been deviating from the main purpose of the setup of these checkpoints and are issuing tickets to individuals with expired licenses and paperwork.
How DWI Checkpoints Work
Drivers are stopped at random at DWI checkpoints via roadblocks. The authorities have a method of stopping vehicles randomly but mainly pull them over if they show visual indications of alcohol impairment such as red or glossy eyes and erratic movement. Drivers showing no visual indications of impairment are usually told to move along while the drivers that do are stopped and questioned.
In recent years, the controversy surrounding DWI checkpoints has been high. Countless cases were filed in the courts and there are countless appeals to existing cases related to DWI checkpoints. There has been constant debate that the checkpoints violate the rights of unreasonable search and seizure which prompted the Supreme Court to rule in 1990 that while the use DWI checkpoints violates the constitutional rights of individuals, it outweighs the breach on individuals’ rights since it is beneficial in trying to keep impaired drivers off the roads.
The opposition continues to argue that checkpoints haven’t proven to be effective statistically and the failure of the checkpoint officers to stick to not only sticking to apprehending intoxicated drivers, but also catching individuals with suspended driver’s licenses or no licenses, or those with expired paperwork instead.
Minnesota Law on DWI Checkpoints
Minnesota honors the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution that prohibits law enforcement agents to perform unreasonable seize and seizures on private citizens, and therefore considers the setup of sobriety checkpoints illegal. Minnesota laws have declared checkpoints to be in violation of Minnesota’s state constitution, and require proof of their effectiveness and increase in arrest before considering their approval.