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DUI Checkpoints' Efficacy Curbed by Warnings on Social Media

Posted by Aaron J. Wolff | Jan 23, 2017 | 0 Comments

Sobriety checkpoints have been a hub of legal dispute since their induction onto American roads in 1986. The Washington Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that the checkpoints were in violation of individual privacy rights, subsequently outlawing them in the state. 12 states in total have adopted this constitutional vantage point, while the Supreme Court and the remaining 38 states have ruled checkpoints constitutionally permissible.

A casual entrant to the debate surrounding DUI checkpoints is offered two firmly-grounded arguments, on either side. Chief Justice William Rehnquist penned the majority opinion in the '86 Supreme Court ruling, writing that “no one can seriously dispute the magnitude of the drunken driving problem or the States' interest in eradicating it….The weight bearing on the other scale—the measure of the intrusion on motorists stopped briefly at sobriety checkpoints—is slight.” The counter argument posits that sobriety checkpoints are too punitive - prone to procedural error that might indict innocent citizens. Others have turned a critical eye to the revenue generated by checkpoints, wherein drivers are more likely to be caught and fined for other minor offenses.

The absence of probable cause and a degree of "unreasonable search and seizure" are primary characteristics raising eyebrows about the constitutionality of checkpoints. Nevertheless - while politically polarizing, they are almost universally considered a bane by the general public. In recent years, the rise of social media has become an unexpected affront to sobriety checkpoints and their central aims. With advance knowledge of checkpoint locations being disseminated on social media, it seems a double-edged sword has formed. Awareness of checkpoint presence may deter drunk driving for some, in essence giving the checkpoint a higher profile to act as a deterrent. Conversely, it may simply lead to outright avoidance of a route containing a checkpoint.

A hot-button issue surrounding checkpoints - not all those seeking to avoid one are driving under the influence. Disputes arise when drivers going around a checkpoint are spotted by the checkpoint's idling “chase car,” who may act under suspicion that the driver has avoided the checkpoint because they have been drinking.

Some law-enforcement officials have discussed reclaiming the ground of social media and using it to their advantage, speculating aggressive social media campaigns against drunk driving. Law enforcement officials in Jefferson County, Missouri are pioneering the field response to systemic social media undermining of the checkpoint system. Said officials, aware of how quickly whereabouts leak, will install checkpoints for shorter durations than usual, in multiple locations, at unusual hours. Social media serves a function for officers as well as civilians in this circumstance, as they scan social media channels to determine when awareness of a checkpoint is too high, leading to its relocation.

Social media warnings bespeak a sort of social solidarity, an 'Us v. Them' mentality meant to aid other drivers in avoiding fines, tickets, legal troubles, or even jail time. While rooted in good intention, the practice may have dangerous consequences.

On the other side of the coin, some were incredulous when law enforcement set up a checkpoint at the exit of a winery in Northern California on barrel-tasting day. Being subject to an approach so heavy-handed creates marked disdain for police forces that exhibit no leniency, especially in situations like that stated above.

Although DUI checkpoints are illegal in the state of Washington, state patrol still man areas that have seen high DUI activity in the past. If you have been accused of a DUI in the state of Washington, do not hesitate to schedule a free consultation with Seattle DUI Attorney, Aaron Wolff.

About the Author

Aaron J. Wolff

A former DUI prosecutor, Aaron Wolff has over 16 years of experience in representing people accused of DUI and is recognized as one of the leading defense lawyers in Washington State. His relentless and passionate advocacy has lead to superb ratings and outstanding reviews from former clients.

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