In 1994, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled random sobriety checkpoints were unconstitutional because there were no statewide guidelines or procedures on how they were used. Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam says there are ways to get around that ruling.
“We won’t be conducting a random sobriety checkpoint. What we’ll be looking for is traffic violators where the police officers are. So it’s more of a saturation patrol centralized area. We’ve taken a tool that police officers use for narcotics interdiction and we’re applying it to DWI law enforcement.”
Diepraam admits it’s likely some drunk drivers caught in the checkpoint will challenge their legality, but says if agencies can use similar tactics to stop drug trafficking, why not drunk driving?
“We’re pretty comfortable with the state of the law. What we’re doing has been upheld by the appellate courts in terms of drug interdictions and cocaine and marijuana cases. We don’t feel that DWI crimes should be treated any differently than other crimes, we want to utilize all available tools. Although I’m certain it will be challenged,
we’re pretty confident that the law is on our side and that it will sustain appellate review.”
Since 1994, a number of Texas lawmakers have tried to get sobriety checkpoint guidelines passed, the latest effort this past session, but so far, no luck. Dr. Michael Vaughn is a professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. He says this weekend’s operation could move that process along.
“Oftentimes, the courts are ahead of the legislature and there will be a court ruling on a specific case and frequently the courts will even ask the legislature to act on a specific item like this. If there is a test case that comes from this sobriety checkpoint, then that will bring much attention to the issue and perhaps the legislature will address the problem.”
Opponents of random sobriety checkpoints say they’re intrusive and violate motorists rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled them to be constitutional in what some refer to as the “DUI exemption” to laws that protect people from searches without probable cause.