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Want to drive to your destination? "Papers, please."

By Scott Tibbs, September 29, 2014

Last Friday night, local police set up a "sobriety checkpoint" to check for drunk drivers. When drivers pass through the checkpoint, "officers will ask for the licenses and the vehicle registrations," according to the Herald-Times.

I ask a couple serious questions here: Can you imagine how this nation's founding fathers would have reacted to an agent of the state asking for their "papers" when they were simply traveling from one place to another? Would the men who wrote and ratified the Fourth Amendment be comfortable with being stopped and questioned despite no grounds to suspect a crime is being or has been committed?

Defenders of checkpoints make utilitarian arguments about stopping drunk driving, and that is certainly a legitimate goal. Much progress has been made - drunk driving fatalities have fallen sharply since 1982. But being stopped while traveling on a public street and asked to "show your papers" is antithetical to the notion of a free society.

But we need to get down to brass tacks here. According to the Herald-Times, police officers manning the checkpoints "work on an overtime basis and are paid by federal and state grant funds." In other words, local government's incentive here is not just to stop drunk driving, but to allow more overtime pay without straining the budgets of local government. Overtime pay for each individual officer can be quite high.

As is the case with any government program, the most important thing to do is follow the money.