Legislators in Utah concerned about the loss of civil liberties have proposed a controversial bill that would ban the use of DUI checkpoints by police, according to a recent article in The Salt Lake Tribune.
The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee in the Utah Legislature approved HB140, a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. David Butterfield, who argues that the use of checkpoints to catch drunk drivers are an ineffective way of catching dangerous drivers, and unfairly infringe on the civil liberties of Utah residents.
In response, law enforcement officials and opponents of drunk driving have argued that Utah should maintain its system of DUI checkpoints, which they claim helps pull many unsafe drivers off Utah streets.
Butterfield expected to meet strong resistance from many constituents, but he claims that the goals of law enforcement must be balanced by the protection of “constitutional and civil rights.”
To bolster his proposal that his state eliminate DUI checkpoints, Butterfield observes that eleven other states have already banned the practice, and more could soon make a similar decision in the name of civil liberties.
Butterfield also claims that so-called “saturation patrols”—a tactic that varies from checkpoints— generate more arrests than DUI checkpoints, and require fewer police officers. He suggests that these patrols should be used instead of checkpoints.
One police chief in Utah, however, claims that saturation patrols do net more arrests, but they are less effective at catching drivers before they become dangerous.
In his view, checkpoints that detect a drivers’ sobriety through simple visual cues and, in some cases, blood alcohol tests, are much more effective at stopping DUIs before they start.
In addition, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder says that many people were dying at dangerous canyons near Little Sahara and Lake Powell before police started setting up checkpoints at high-traffic times.
In Winder’s eyes, removing checkpoints from law enforcement’s arsenal of DUI prevention tools would not only reduce DUI arrests, it may result in more fatal accidents caused by drunk driving.
Further, Winder observes that the supreme courts of both Utah and the United States have ruled that DUI checkpoints are constitutional, which seems to undercut Butterfield’s argument to the contrary.
Regardless of whose argument will prevail, the bill still has many hurdles before it becomes a law. After passing the House committee by an 8-5 vote, the bill will now head to the full House for a vote.
Even if it passes the House, however, observers believe that it will face a hard time escaping the Utah Senate, which has historically been a strong proponent of aggressive DUI enforcement tactics.