By Scott Tibbs, August 28, 2009
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. -- The Fourth Amendment
It's that time of year again, and the Indiana State Police will be conducting sobriety checkpoints to catch drunk drivers. The goal is certainly worthy. Between 1997 and 2007, drunk driving caused an average of over 16,750 deaths per year. When someone drives drunk, he or she is recklessly endangering the lives of everyone else on the road, unnecessarily increasing the risk of death or disfigurement for others. One of the basic responsibilities of government is to make it illegal for citizens to harm others. Crackdowns on drunk driving since the 1980's reduced drunk driving fatalities by a great deal despite the increased number of cars on the road, but it is important to keep the pressure on.
What I do not agree with, however, is sobriety checkpoints that subject everyone to a search by law enforcement for the purpose of catching drunk drivers. Subjecting people who are stone cold sober to sobriety checkpoint with no evidence that they are impaired is an unacceptable expansion of law enforcement powers. Police should not have the power to detain people who have committed no crime for the purpose of randomly catching the ones that have committed crimes. Drunk driving needs to be eliminated to the greatest extent possible, but not at the cost of our precious civil liberties.
Two years ago, the state legislature acted correctly in banning checkpoints to check for seat belt use. House Enrolled Act No. 1237 states that "a law enforcement agency may not use a safety belt checkpoint to detect and issue a citation" for not wearing a seat belt. The legislature should follow up by banning sobriety checkpoints as well.