Washington: Gregoire wants traffic sobriety checkpoints

Washington: Gregoire wants traffic sobriety checkpoints

Her proposal aims to curb drunken driving

By DAVID AMMONS - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Jan 7th

OLYMPIA -- Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday proposed sobriety checkpoints in selected high-accident areas as part of the state's continuing clampdown on drunken driving.

The proposal drew immediate support from law enforcement and citizen activists, but civil libertarians vowed a battle in the Legislature and in the courts.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the plan would violate the state's strong protections against "suspicionless" searches. Spokesman Doug Honig said the state Supreme Court threw out Seattle's checkpoints near 20 years ago and that the ban on DUI roadblocks is long-settled.

Gregoire spokesman Aaron Toso said the plan wouldn't violate the court's ruling.

"The ban is against searches without the authority of law. This proposal provides legal authority if the warrant is issued by a Superior Court judge to conduct these checks," he said.

The governor's plan will be sponsored by the House Judiciary Committee chairwoman, Rep. Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor, a lawyer. The Senate Judiciary chairman, Adam Kline, D-Seattle, has long worked on drunken-driving legislation.

The proposal would require law enforcement to get a warrant from the local Superior Court after giving the judge a plan for a specific location and time period. The checkpoints would be in areas that are known for frequent alcohol- and drug-related collisions.

The legislation would require the judge to approve the warrant if the plan "advances the jurisdiction's interest in reducing impaired driving, taking into account potential arrests under the program and the program's deterrent effect."

The measure says checkpoints should "minimize intrusions into the privacy rights of drivers and vehicle occupants."

The bill says all vehicles except for emergency vehicles would have to stop at each checkpoint. A person who failed to stop could be prosecuted for a gross misdemeanor. That could carry a maximum penalty of a year in jail and $5,000 fine.

The plan calls for advance notice to the public and a report back to the court on how the checkpoint project worked.

But Honig said there are grave constitutional questions that Gregoire's plan doesn't satisfy. A landmark opinion by the state high court in 1988 said the state constitution doesn't permit motorists to be routinely stopped without suspicion or probable cause to believe the individual is doing something wrong.

The U.S. Supreme Court has approved checkpoints, such as the approach used in Michigan, but Washington has stronger privacy protections against suspicionless search and seizure, Honig said.

The state allows "emphasis patrols" where law enforcement concentrates manpower in high-accident areas and pulls over people when their vehicles are weaving or showing other obvious signs of the driver's being impaired, he said.


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