Will Utah lawmakers actually ban police check-points where possible drunk drivers are caught?
Such an action wouldn’t have had a chance just a few years ago.
But now one of the new conservatives of the House says that is exactly what needs to be done.
And the check-point outlaw bill is yet another example (highlighted by UtahPolicy this session) of conservative legislators taking on what has traditionally been a sacred area – law enforcement and get-tough-on crime efforts – that may bleed over into individual rights and civil liberties of citizens.
Rep. David Butterfield, R-Logan, has introduced HB140, which would prohibit police checkpoints “regarding drivers that may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs; and regarding license plates, registration certificates, insurance certificates, or driver licenses.”
Butterfield says he fully anticipates a lot of questions about his bill.
“First off, I want to catch and punish drunk drivers. We all do. That is a top priority for me.”
But, the freshman legislator says, data shows that police checkpoints – where all drivers must stop and be examined by police officers before being allowed to continue – are poor operations to actually catch DUIs.
There is a much better law enforcement tactic – “saturation patrol.” In those cases a group of trained DUI officers flood a neighborhood or area, watch drivers as they get in their cars and drive away, and the swoop down and stop them, said Butterfield.
The impaired drivers are stopped “for cause” and appropriately arrested in a constitutional manner, believes Butterfield.
Various courts have ruled that in limited cases – like DUI – cops can set up checkpoints as long as there is a proven public safety benefit.
Butterfield and his supporters argue that such checkpoints – since they catch so few DUIs – are NOT a public safety benefit.
Instead, innocent drivers are subject to “warrantless searches and suspicious stops.”
In other words, such checkpoints can – and he believes are – a violation of the both the U.S. and Utah constitutions’ right of unreasonable search and seizure.
Butterfield said he’s been talking to both police officials and anti-DUI groups like MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
There will be various arguments against his bill, Butterfield said.
One is that checkpoints – and the media’s coverage both before and after such operations – can act as a societal deterrent to drinking and driving.
But saturation patrols can be advertised just a widely – and in fact may become a better public relations tool, he says.
For example, if some well-known bar or other watering hole is identified by police as worthy of a saturation patrol, patrons and others will learn that they can’t get in their cars and drive away, or there will be in big trouble.
Permanent – if not only short-term – actions could get drunks off the roads – which is really the aim of broad checkpoints as well.
“It is wrong to throw out a big net (in a checkpoint on a major road) just to try to catch anyone” who may be violating a vehicle-related offense – like not having proper car insurance.
“We can more effectively fight DUI and protect the individual rights of our citizens” through his bill, says Butterfield.