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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sobriety Checkpoints: Public Safety or Nanny State?

For all of you readers who like to complain about Marxism and the "nanny state," here's a question: how do you feel about sobriety checkpoints? KJAM reports the South Dakota Highway Patrol will be stopping drivers throughout April at checkpoints in Minnehaha, Moody, and several other counties around our fair state.

Police stop you without cause, ask to see your papers, sniff around... for all the talk about surging socialism in the new Administration, I'm not sure you can find a more apt analog to life in the USSR than sobriety checkpoints, and they've been going on for years... in Republican South Dakota.

I've always been made a bit nervous by the extent to which we defang the Fourth Amendment on our public roads, especially when evidence of their effectiveness is questionable. Apparently so are eleven states, including the Democratic People's Republic of Minnesota, which prohibit sobriety checkpoints.

I do not drink, and I have darn little tolerance for those who do so to excess. But I also have little tolerance for officers of the law detaining me without probable cause or even reasonable suspicion.

So you tell me: where do we strike the balance?


  1. If we're really interested in catching drunk drivers, why don't the police set up sobriety checkpoints a block away from the bars at 1:00 AM (or whatever time the bars close in any given town)? Or better yet, they can stand on the sidewalks outside bars and administer breathalyzer tests as people leave bars? At least there would be probable cause.

  2. The real value clash here is safety vs. personal privacy. We certainly don't want people driving on the roads to be at risk of drunk drivers but at the same time I certainly don't want anyone checking up on me without good cause. In this instance, I would lean towards personal privacy since we have been giving so much of that up for safety recently. From a policy making stand point, I would look to:


    to ascertain the true value of these checkpoints. As the lawyer points out, having sobriety checkpoints does not correlate with decreased drunk driving. In light of this, I also feel from a policy standpoint that sobriety checkpoints are ineffective and are a waste of public money.

  3. I completely believe in CheckPoints. You never know. The one person that they pull of the road could have been in an accident with you later if they hadn't got caught.

  4. A well-regulated, supervised check point system is the least of virtually any privacy invasions.

    On the other hand the judge-made warrant exceptions to the Fourth Amendment are indefensible. The founding fathers knew what a horse-drawn wagon was yet they didn't waive warrants to search buggies, ox-carts or other "mobile transportation" of that age.

    One has to laugh when a defense lawyer tries to abuse math to prove anything. If they understood math or science they would have been a mathematician or scientist.

  5. Anon 10:34: You never know: the one person whose house isn't searched might be building a bomb in the basement. Knock knock....

  6. I agree with Erin...If the highway patrol really wants to stop drunk drivers, set the checkpoint up outside the bar!! Nobody drives and everyone is safe, and no DUI's. However, the reality is that they want you to drink and drive...right to their checkpoint. After all the harassment stories I heard that came from the state fair, there ought to be separate entity to monitor officers and their behavior, no more suspensions with pay..is that really punishment?

  7. I feel that if a person is drinking and driving, he/she has given up her right to privacy or whatever. He/she is a weapon of mass destruction basically; they usually kill innocents and not themselves. I have absolutely no sympathy for anyone who drinks and drives. None! And the penalties should be harsher and longer lasting.

  8. People wouldn't have to worry about check points if they would obey the law and not drink and drive. Plain and simple.

  9. Anon 9:26: I made clear my view on drinking and driving. I'm with you 100%: cuff 'em and stuff 'em. But do what Erin says and catch 'em in the bar parking lot.

    PennyP, note that I and my wife are obeying the law. Driving or not, I don't drink. Yet we do have to worry about being stopped. That's what gets my gourd.

  10. Please do not confuse the right of privacy provided in our Constitution with the privilege of operating a motor vehicle on a public road. Right versus privilege.

    Law enforcement officers are not at the check points by choice. Most would rather be at home in bed, just as most of you are.

    They are there because you, through your elected representatives, have told them they have to be.

    I have conducted and been subjected to sobriety checkpoints and have no problem with them if they are conducted professionally.

    Locally, at both sobriety checks I have been subjected to, the officers acted very professionally and the only inconvience I expierienced was getting home 5 minutes later. I live in South Dakota, what's 5 minutes, at least I got home safely.

    Joseph G Thompson

  11. Joseph:

    My concern here is the slippery slope. We are giving away some privacy without probable cause at police checkpoints. And to all the others in this thread that don't consider it an inconvenience, I would direct you to:


    For those that don't keep with with new tech, these chip/lab integrated IC's are getting ready to go big time!

    Imagine that to get your car to start you have to be wearing such a chip that checks your alcohol levels. Better yet, why not use it to check if you're too sleepy to drive too? Or maybe your hormones are out of balance, etc.

    I certainly don't agree with drunk driving and would happily increase sentences for offenders. However, many technologies are coming online now that allow for continuous monitoring of an individual. I'm not comfortable with any regulation now that could legitimize such approaches.

  12. If you are diabetic, or if you're on an extreme low-carbohydrate diet, you had better walk to your local police station and get a breath test to see if you're a false positive. If you do turn out that way, walk to your doctor's office and get her to write a letter to the effect that you are occasionally in ketosis and that ketones in the bloodstream can produce false positives on breathalyzers. Then, and only then, dare to drive again. And good luck, tovarishch!

  13. Tony,Probable cause is not an issue with a sobriety checkpoint, because there is no consitutional right to operate a motor vehicle on public roads, it's a privilege.Stan,Only the very early breathalyzers had a problem with carbs.  However, if it would make a person feel safer, then I would suggest that they do get a letter from their doctor.  Remember, also, that it takes a lot more than a failed breathalyzer to get a DWI conviction.For those of you who are pressed for time and dislike the inconvience of sobriety checkpoints, surprise the state feels the same way and has provided you with a way to plan for those few extra minutes.From a press release from Pierre dated 24 March 2009."The South Dakota Department of Public Safety is now using technology to help combat drunk driving.  It's distributing sobriety checkpoint schedules and taxi numbers via text messaging.  And to get those messages all you have to do is visit www.actcivilized.com."
    Joseph G Thompson

  14. I do not believe checkpoints are effective. I was given a DUI at a checkpoint 4 hours after I had 2 beers. My car was released to my drunk friend i was driving home, who had 6 beers and 5 shots of tequila who quit drinking 1/2 hour before i took her home. I blew a
    .08, and she blew .00, she also told the officer exactly how much she had to drink and she was not fit to drive. he told her to go anyway. now where is the justice in that???

  15. And I once knew a chicken who would
    call the farmer when he laid an egg

    Joseph G Thonmpson

  16. Joseph G. Thompson is right on with facts instead of blathering opinion.

    Driving is a licensed privilege. Protections of privacy that apply to your bedroom do not apply to highways. There is no slippery slope. Roadblocks and sobriety checks have been running for years in South Dakota and so far at least, no governor has called on the SDHP to go banging on every door in a town checking for interesting sexual relationships or even drugs without a warrant from a judge.

    Anybody who thinks cops or patrolmen can sit outside a bar to arrest drivers is unfamiliar with harassment under color of authority and true infringement on both property and civil rights. If the anti-smoking laws generate controversy, it would be nothing compared to SDHP and local cops parking in front of bars.

    That might well make the most sense from narrow efficiency perspective, but it really is part of the slippery slope. Most of us don't need licenses or permits to walk on sidewalks.

    It is now nearly 40 years since I worked in highway safety and with the SDASAP which was the South Dakota Alchol Safety Action Project. For a year or so, sobriety checks were run with no arrests if drunken drivers cooperated and got other drivers. Data was collected however.

    On some South Dakota highways on a late Friday or Saturday night, over 50% of the drivers were legally intoxicated and that was when the BAC was set at 0.10 instead of the current 0.08. Then 68% of the traffic fatalities involved alcohol impairment.

    I think there has been some improvement and seat belt laws have also reduced fatalities. Even so, probably something between 40% and 60% of your auto insurance premiums result because of alcohol-impaired drivers.

    Good Neighbors Drive Sober.

  17. I personally don't mind being stopped for a couple extra minutes for something like this. I know everything is an infringement on our personal privacy anymore, but I feel that being hit by a drunk driver and being killed or paralyzed is much more of an infringement on my life than a sobriety check. JMO


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