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Should DWI checkpoints be available to interfere with privacy?

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association says that 12 states in the country prohibit the use of sobriety checkpoints either through statute or under constitutional principles. Pitt County area residents may be aware that North Carolina law enforcement agencies may conduct DWI checkpoints.

While the frequency of use of this kind of roadblock may vary in different counties across the state, no state law prohibits their use. The United States Supreme Court years ago ruled that as long as constitutional safeguards are involved in the implementation and operation of DWI checkpoints, their use is not prohibited under the federal Constitution.

Federal highway officials have been setting up voluntary checkpoints across the country through a contractor to research road safety issues, including drunk and drugged driving, on America’s roads. These roadblocks are not supposed to be linked to any kind of criminal investigation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration uses the roadblocks to gather data for road safety research.

Off-duty uniformed local officers are often used to conduct the roadblocks. Drivers caught up in the research project supposedly participate on a voluntary basis. In some instances, officers will question motorists about driving habits. In others, officers will ask for blood, saliva or breath samples—purportedly for the purposes of research. In some cases, motorists may be offered a stipend for submitting a sample, according to USA Today.

The idea of using these so-called anonymous and voluntary roadblocks is not new. The NHTSA has used the tactic for roughly four decades. Civil liberties and criminal defense lawyers are questioning the tactic, including the use of uniformed officers in these purported research efforts. Drivers may very well be confused about whether a roadblock is a research project for federal statistical analysis, or a criminal investigatory operation—especially when a roadblock uses uniformed officers.

Source: Source: USA Today, “Voluntary government checkpoints spark backlash,” Larry Copeland, Jan. 7, 2014

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