Little opposition to checkpoints at first hearing
Few speak against a bill that would allow police to set up roadside sobriety checkpoints.http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20080131/NEWS01/484812520
OLYMPIA -- Legislation to let police conduct roadside stops in search of drunk drivers motored through its first public airing Wednesday without stirring much opposition.
While many Democratic and Republican lawmakers say they are against sobriety checkpoints, most who showed up Wednesday said they should be used.
Snohomish County Prosecutor Janice Ellis said law enforcement is motivated to get this tool to remove impaired drivers from the road before they kill someone.
"Too many of them spend too many hours scraping too many of their bodies off our roadways," she said of police.
Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick, state Attorney General Rob McKenna and Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste all testified to how it could save 50 lives a year, about a fifth of the typical loss.
"Imagine yourself on the floor (of the House)," Batiste told members of the House Judiciary Committee. "You look around and suddenly 50 of you are no longer present."
Several speakers didn't have to imagine; they've experienced the loss of a family member killed by a drunk driver.
Checkpoints are used in 39 states and have been upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
They're not in place here because in 1988, the state Supreme Court found Seattle's checkpoint program violated a provision of the state constitution because the city had not enacted any law giving it the authority to conduct checkpoints.
Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union, point out that Washington's constitution contains stronger privacy protections against suspicionless search and seizure.
Supporters of proposed House Bill 2771 say it is crafted to answer all the real and perceived constitutional issues raised if police were allowed to set up road barriers and force people to stop their vehicles to answer questions.
The proposed law requires a law enforcement agency to obtain a court-issued warrant each time it wants to set up a roadside stop.
To get one, they must present a judge with a plan specifying the checkpoint location and how long it will last. Authorities also must provide information demonstrating it would be in an area known for frequent collisions attributed to alcohol and drug use.
All vehicles, except for emergency vehicles, would have to stop. Those who don't could be prosecuted for a gross misdemeanor.
Notices of a planned checkpoint must be published in a newspaper and posted online on the Web site of the county where it will take place.
Batiste, responding to questions from lawmakers, said his officers won't be looking to ticket people for a broken headlight or out-of-date vehicle registration.
He said as cars come through, officers will explain to drivers what's going on. In the course of the conversation, officers will try to discern whether there is alcohol on the driver's breath or they are displaying any obvious signs of intoxication.
If not, they'll be waved through. If there is reason for suspicion, the driver can be directed to another location where more direct questioning could occur.
McKenna said the problems that led to the 1988 decision have been "more than adequately addressed."
Ellis said even those concerned with the legality of the proposal should support the legislation becoming law so it can be challenged and "then we will know if it is legal."
"If this doesn't do it, nothing will," she said.