Mo. mulls funding cuts for sobriety checkpoints

Critics argued the checkpoints violate due process rights and protections against unreasonable search and seizure


By Katie Kull
Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri police could lose state funding for sobriety checkpoints after a debate weighing motorists' rights to avoid unreasonable searches against the state's interest in keeping roads safe, as well as the value of checkpoints in deterring drunken driving.

The House on Thursday passed a budget that would prohibit the use of state funds for checkpoints. Local law enforcement would still be able to conduct checkpoints with locally raised money.

A core group of conservative Republicans supported the bill, arguing the checkpoints violate due process rights and protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

The checkpoints block a street so that all drivers are funneled through a group of officers who stop drivers even if they don't appear to be doing anything illegal.

"This is a guilty until you're proven innocent type situation," said Rep. Robert Ross, of Summersville. "It's against due process."

At least twelve states prohibit checkpoints, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some states bar road blocks by state statute, and others have found checkpoints illegal in court.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 upheld the use of road blocks in a case involving the Michigan Department of Police. Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in his opinion that the state's interest in preventing drunken driving outweighs the intrusion on drivers.

Maj. Dale Schmidt, executive director of the Missouri Peace Officers Association, said the checkpoints are a good option and can help spot other offenses such as drug possession or driving without a valid license.

"We make a lot of good other arrests at this because we're coming into contact with so many people," Schmidt said.

Another issue is how well checkpoints work. In a floor debate Tuesday, House Budget Chairman Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, of Shell Knob, argued that the checkpoints cost a lot of money but aren't as effective as saturation patrols, in which officers look for drivers weaving, speeding, or driving in other ways that tend to indicate impairment.

Rep. Justin Hill, who was previously a police officer in O'Fallon, Missouri, favors saturation patrols because it's easier to establish the cause for pulling a driver over if they've committed a moving violation.

It also deters crime because officers are spread out on streets in unpredictable ways instead of concentrating them in one place, he said.

"If you know where the cops are, you're going to avoid it," Hill said. "Now with social media, there's Facebook pages that say 'Here's a checkpoint, avoid it.' I wouldn't be surprised if eventually we have an app."

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