Thursday, September 27, 2007

DUI Checkpoint...Charlie.

At considerable taxpayer expense, local law enforcement routinely sets up checkpoints to combat the DUI problem. The "DUI problem" is best defined as the problem of people drinking (and/or drugging) to the point where they cannot safely drive a motor vehicle such that they will more likely than sober drivers cause traffic accidents; which, as everyone understands, are a huge nuisance, and worst of all, can cause serious injuries and fatalities. Accordingly, there's no argument in favor of DUI whatsoever. The legitimate criticism of checkpoints is that they stand at odds with the notion that we live in a free society. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that we should be free from warrantless intrusions by the Government into our private lives. "Your papers please!" is the classic charicature of the agent of a fascist/police state (presumably from another land, and perhaps, another time). It conjures up images of the Soviet Union's 70 year oppressive fascist autocracy, present day North Korea, and the list goes on. The irony of the "request" is that isn't really a request at all. Does anyone who is asked for their papers by a police officer, anywhere, really feel free to say, "Uh, thanks, but no, I'm not going to hand over my papers"?? Try it. This is why checkpoints are, to some, objectionable. It is where mostly law abiding people are essentially ordered to submit to some form of inspection (of their drivers license, eyes, breath, etc.) For every DUI arrest a checkpoint produces, there are perhaps 100 or more warrantless intrusions into the private lives of law abiding citizens. Maybe it's worth 100 intrusions if that DUI arrest really saved a life, but even the CHP will tell you that many people at .08 or more can drive home without causing a traffic fatality. Simply put, not every DUI arrest saves a life. Does the public nature of a checkpoint send the right message to the public such that the overall awareness of the problem will increase, causing people to be more cautious? Perhaps. However, there is no hard data to support this. The sad part is, in spite of the California Supreme Court's ruling in Ingersoll v. Palmer (which allows checkpoints if certain conditions are met), checkpoints erode the most cherished attribute of the United States of America; our freedom. This erosion should be allowed, if ever, out of dire necessity, and never with casual acceptance. So, while law enforcement might define this intrusion as a "no brainer", don't be so sure. To be so sure, plain and simple, is un-American.

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