Gregoire calls for sobriety checkpoints
Gov. Christine Gregoire wants the state Legislature to authorize police to set up sobriety spot checks, a practice unseen in Washington...
Times Snohomish County Bureau
Gov. Christine Gregoire wants the state Legislature to authorize police to set up sobriety spot checks, a practice unseen in Washington since the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1988.
Gregoire on Monday called upon residents to be "team" players in the state's fight to save lives by accepting the proposed incursion on their driving rights, comparing the traffic stops to security checks at airports and courthouses.
"The fact of the matter is it's a different day than it was 20 years ago," she said at a news conference at Lynnwood's Meadowdale High School, where the checkpoint procedures were demonstrated. "It is literally a partnership with every single citizen to make sure our roadways are safe."
The proposed bill's provisions include:
• An agency's chief law-enforcement officer would be required to obtain a warrant from a Superior Court judge to conduct sobriety checkpoints scheduled for specific locations, dates and times.
• The public would be notified in advance of the checkpoints.
• Either all vehicles or a designated sequence — such as every fourth vehicle — would be stopped.
• Checkpoints would be set up only in areas with a statistically proven high incidence of accidents involving drugs or alcohol.
Doug Honig, American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state spokesman, said his organization will look to the Legislature to kill the proposal.
"Our courts have found that to stop a motorist without any suspicion that the person is doing something wrong is unconstitutional. It interferes with the right of law-abiding people to travel," he said. "Our hope would be that the people in the Legislature would take a look at the proposal and say the intentions may be good, but it interferes with people's rights."
The ACLU strongly prefers the increased use of drunken-driving emphasis patrols, which State Patrol and local police have been using with greater frequency in recent years.
"That's a legal way to address this concern," Honig said. "If they are pulling people over for driving in a way that appears unsafe, certainly they have the authority."
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 upheld a Michigan checkpoint program, saying motorists' privacy rights were not violated. Legal analysts at that time said the federal ruling did not affect Washington, because the state constitution provides stronger protections that limit police searches.
Thirty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, allow spot checks to catch drunken drivers, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
The national organization in November released a "state progress" report card ranking Washington 40th in the nation in its efforts to eliminate drunken driving. The rankings were based upon the percentage of fatal accidents in 2006 that involved a drunken driver.
Washington's 225 drunken-driving fatalities represented 36 percent of all fatal traffic accidents in the state, MADD reported. Utah was in the No. 1 spot, with 19 percent, based on 54 alcohol-related traffic deaths.
Previous bills to authorize various forms of sobriety checkpoints failed to pass the Legislature several times in the early 1990s.
The state's 1988 case stemmed from Seattle police roadblocks during the 1983-84 Christmas and New Year's holiday season. The Supreme Court found the program violated a state constitutional provision against illegal search and seizure.
But Justice James Dolliver, who participated in the majority decision, wrote in his concurring opinion that the program might be constitutional if it were authorized by statute.
Gregoire said her proposed bill fits Dolliver's criteria.
The state Attorney General's Office helped craft the proposed bill, Gregoire said. It will be introduced in the state House by Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor.
"If this does not make constitutional muster, then nothing will allow us to have this tool in our toolbox without changing our constitution," she said.
Gregoire on Monday was flanked by a range of supporters, including State Patrol Chief John Batiste; Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick; Snohomish County Prosecutor Janice Ellis; state Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, D-Lynnwood; and representatives from MADD and the Traffic Safety Commission.
The national and Pacific Northwest MADD organizations are targeting sobriety checkpoints and stricter laws for ignition interlocks as legislative priorities this year.
"Sobriety checkpoints work. The Centers for Disease Control says that in states where they have sobriety checkpoints, impaired driving crashes are usually 20 percent less than in states where they don't," said Judy Eakin, executive director of MADD's Northwest region.
If the legislation were to pass, a legal challenge probably would be filed by attorneys representing drivers arrested at a checkpoint, Honig said. At that point, the ACLU could file a "friend of the court" brief to support the case, he said.
Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or email@example.com
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