A General Cloud of Suspicion
Dan Yorke railed against this possibility on Wednesday:
Under pressure from law-enforcement officials who want to use the roadblocks again, Governor Carcieri is deciding whether to ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider a 1989 decision that sobriety checkpoints violate the state Constitution.
If Carcieri goes along with Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who wants him to put the question back before the court, it would open the possibility of a reversal that would allow checkpoints after a 15-year ban.
Rhode Island is one of just eleven states that currently have such bans in place. However, Yorke pointed out that we’re at least that unique in amount of corruption. And a general ability to pull over cars without any reason for suspicion whatsoever would be a power-abuser’s dream. It would also seem to create a ready source of revenue for an already corpulent governing system. Note the statistics in Tennessee:
Elder, Lynch, MADD and other proponents cite a massive, 12-month demonstration project in Tennessee in which nearly 145,000 vehicles were stopped at 882 checkpoints during 12 months in 1994 and 1995.
Only 773 drivers, less than 1 percent, were arrested on drunken-driving charges, hundreds were arrested on other charges and 7,351 were given other traffic citations.
Yes, it’s absolutely true that about 94% of people stopped pulled away with no penalty but lost time. That said, of the remaining 6%, around 91% were arrested or cited for violations that had absolutely nothing to do with the reason such stops are allowed. Those don’t sound like “police roadblocks to fight drunken driving” to me; they sound like general searches without probable cause that sometimes happen to catch drunk drivers.
Still, part of Yorke’s anger came from the apparent apathy of his audience. So, in the event that the ban looks likely to collapse, I propose a compromise: police may set up roadblocks, but they are completely forbidden from busting drivers or their passengers for any violation not having to do with alcohol. (With exceptions for those rare instances in which they come across a car with a corpse in the backseat.)