Sobriety Checkpoints: Effective Safety Tool or Violation of Rights?

Gov. Christine Gregoire is introducing legislation that aims to create so-called “sobriety checkpoints” along Washington highways, a move that will reignite debate in the state concerning said checkpoints’ constitutionality.

The governor’s plans were unveiled this afternoon and several stories have already been written by local media.

The checkpoints allow police to stop drivers en masse to determine if they’ve been drinking.

That would effectively allow police to blanket certain areas and get drunk drivers off the road. But it would also mean cops wouldn’t need probable cause to make an arrest for DUI, which some critics contend is a violation of privacy.


According to an Everett Herald story by Jackson Holtz, Washington is one of 10 states that does not do random DUI checkpoints. While they were upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990, the Washington state supreme court ruled them unconstitutional two years later, Holtz writes.

Here’s how the sides lined up, Holtz says:

Law enforcement officials and anti-drunken-driving advocates cheered the announcement while defense attorneys and motorists-rights groups said the roadblocks would limit personal freedoms and may be unconstitutional.

I’ll be following the governor’s plan. In the meantime, what do you think of the idea of having checkpoints?

16 thoughts on “Sobriety Checkpoints: Effective Safety Tool or Violation of Rights?

  1. …and then what? Motorists get stopped. They’re determined to be drunk. What is changed about the DUI laws and penalties?

    It seems silly to go to the time and expense to have the checkpoints without dramatically inserting more teeth into the DUI laws we already have.

    Is the drunk driver – caught the first time – had all his/her cars confiscated for six months or more? Are they thrown in jail for six months or so?
    Do they work at community service for six months or so?

    What is the reasoning behind the checkpoints when the punishment for the drunk driver is the same minor hand slap?

    The checkpoints will do nothing beyond cost a lot of money for zero benefit unless adding harsher punishment.
    In my opinion… Sharon O’Hara

  2. Josh,

    These checkpoints are a great idea. After all, driving on public roads is a privilege that requires a license from the government. Why shouldn’t government officials regulate behavior while on the road? As long as stops are conducted in a consistent manner. For instance, it would be wrong for police to stop older model cars while letting BMWers, Lexus or Mercedes pass unchallenged. If it is wrong to stop people at checkpoints, then why does the government have the right to license and regulate driving speeds, ages, emissions in some counties and license tabs? Bring on the checkpoints, every drunk we stop is one less life adversely affected. Josh, isn’t there a Washington Supreme Court Justice who had problems with DUI some years ago?

  3. Great idea….Soon we will have “random” checkpoints for a slew of other crimes. Random thievery checkpoints, random rape prevention checkpoints. Then we will all be super safe when we live a total police state. I cant wait to have the gestapo stop me and check me every day!!!

  4. “…violation of privacy…” Give me a break! What a sad excuse to allow these idiots to get away of putting me and my family in danger. I say bring the checkpoints on. If I’m a few minutes late for work or whatever because I have to go through a checkpoint, who cares? At least I know the chances are greater that I’ll make it there alive because maybe that particular checkpoint will get a drunk driver off the road.

  5. Nice thought, Trooper. I hope the first one that gets “iced” is a lick-spittle conformist who can’t even spell liberty let alone define what it means.

    I am sick of warrantless searches, surveillance, and “it’s for your own good” pokings and proddings into my life. What’s next? An inspection of my home every week by a BPD officer (God forbid I should climb a tree in front of BPD!) to ensure it hasn’t been turned into a methlab? An officer of the law standing outside my door every morning to frisk me in case I’m carrying illegal weapons or controlled substances?

    Enforce the way-too-many laws we have now . . . don’t dream up any more.

  6. I am undecided on this issue at this time. I don’t care if they check me and my family because we have NOTHING to hide. However, with that said, I also understand the opposing view very much and agree. Thus I sit on the proverbial fence, because I definately see both sides.

  7. They are saying that in the other 40 states where checkpoints are allowed that there is a 20% reduction in crashes and fatalities. If that is true than I feel that being inconvenienced for a few minutes of my time is well worth it. I think the only people who will be searched are those drivers who smell like alcohol so I’m personnally not worried about it. Also they are to advertise where and when the checkpoint is going to take place. I feel that laws we have on the DUI issue need to be streaghtend absolutly and checkpoints are just another tool in the box to get those who drink and drive off the roads. I’ve been searched at the airport since 9/11 and it hasn’t hurt me a bit and it makes me feel more secure while I’m flying. Anything that will improve the safety of our roadways by getting the drunk driving terrorist off the road is fine by me.

  8. It is another money grab. While I initially thought is was a great idea, I think the DUI laws and penalties need to be addressed first. Maybe we should require that bars give Sobriety tests to their patrons before they leave for the evening. Better yet, bar owners should be held liable and maybe they would be more responsible about serving drunks.

  9. I think the idea is good for safety but I’m worried about the increasing backlog of traffic in some areas of Kitsap where putting in a roadblock will effectively choke off all traffic in and out of some areas. It does seem like we’re an authoritarian state here.

  10. Elaine, I’m glad to see your first DUI scared you enough not to drink and drive again.
    I agree with “…bring on the checkpoints…” I, too, have nothing to hide and I have nothing to worry about except those that do drink and drive.

  11. I agree with trooper. The bad thing is, all of the negative comments are coming from people who have had bad experiences with law enforcement. You may feel that sobriety checkpoints are unconstitutional but they are still governed. If you don’t believe me, take it to court.

    As for the “rape checkpoints”… Wait until your wife or daughter becomes a victim of a sex crime. Everyone hates the police until they need them. Then they can’t get there fast enough. I believe in doing the right thing, as do most people. But until you are a victim of a crime or other incident, you don’t really know any other way to be than negative.

    And trooper, hope for a DUI defense attorney to lose a loved one in a wreck, and then hope the defendant walks.

    As to everyone else that is only aware of constitutional law because of what they hear or read or see in the media. Get a law book, find where it is unconstitutional in there and show me the page. But when you go to the library to get your library card, I hope you walk (you know so you aren’t harassed while using the PRIVILEGE to drive).

  12. The 4th amendment is going the way of the dodo.

    Sound like an illegal search to me.

    Like Ben Franklin said – “ Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. “

    Hey LorenofTX you don’t need a law book, just look at the constitution and go down four amendments.

  13. Here we are again lorenoftx. Seems like you are always on the same page as I am. The thing is you just do not get it. Dismissed in any court is dismissed. Final end of story. I am not willing to give up my American rights without a say. It may be a privledge to drive but it is also a right to live a life without government intrusion. Laws, more laws to fix the wrong laws. On and, on and, on . This is the reason Washington state picked up a short legislavetive session on non legislative years to begin with. Not enough time to make more laws every other year! Just as I said in another post somewhere in this paper Lets go for the big bucks and have safety checks. $150.00 for the rock ding another $150.00 for the burned out tail light. Oops! forgot to check before I got in the car. We could be the richest state in the US. Adopt out more kids to strangers 5 to 10k per kid. Our states major revenue is comming from disgusting principals. Do not believe me? Get a copy of our revenue sources from the Dept of financial managegment. Complex information. If you have basic math skills you should be able to understand it.

  14. I feel our traditional rights and liberties are being trampled on. The whole idea of “innocent until proven guilty” has been turned on its head, and like urine tests before them, roadblocks assume guilt, and the burden of proving guilt has been removed from those in authority, and been converted into the accused being required to prove their innocence.

    This past summer the Dept. of Homeland Security placed a roadblock on Highway 101 near Forks, it was part of a pilot program. So apparently DHS roadblocks will soon become a regular feature of life in these United States.

    Now we also have traffic video cameras at certain intersections, from what I’ve read about other countries this will be the beginning of an entire video surveillance culture. Britain now has one surveillance camera for every 14 citizens.

    Combined with all that we will now have “sobriety” checkpoints by local/county/state police which Gov. Gregoire has assured us will be about sobriety only. I don’t believe that. It won’t be long at all before the state checkpoints start detaining people because of their child support payments etc.

    Between the federal Dept. of Homeland Security roadblocks, the state “sobriety” checkpoints, and the city video surveillance cameras I feel like a victim in waiting, and a cash cow waiting to be milked.

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