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Committee Green Lights Bill to Repeal DUI Checkpoints

by Eric S. Peterson
- Posted // 2012-02-10 - Rep. David Butterfield, R-Logan, successfully passed a bill out of a House committee Friday that would repeal state law enforcement’s ability to conduct sobriety checkpoint stops throughout the state. Butterfield was facing some tough opposition in passing the bill, which will now goes to the House floor. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder argued that checkpoints have made a difference. “When I started in this business 26 years ago, the days after graduation you used to count the number of dead children coming out of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon,” Winder said. “That doesn’t happen anymore.”

 

It was a grim challenge to Butterfield’s House Bill 140 that he argued was one that walked a fine line between protecting Utahns from drunk-driving fatalities and maintaining their civil liberties at the same time. The bill would seek to remove from statute law enforcement’s ability to hold checkpoints that flag drivers and screen them for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, as well as checkpoints that screen for license plates, drivers licenses, insurance and vehicle registration. The bill would still allow for checkpoints that screen for dangerous fugitives or to make sure invasive species aren’t attached to boats using Utah’s lakes and other bodies of water.

Butterfield noted that 11 other states have outlawed the checkpoints over concerns of infringing upon constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure, and without subsequent increases in DUI fatalities. He also referenced a 2003 report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that argues that saturation patrols, or concentrated police presences in small areas, are more effective at apprehending and taking drunken drivers off the road.

“As we find better ways, we evolve our practices to be more efficient, more effective and, hopefully, more conscientious of our constitutional rights,” Butterfield said. “In the state of Utah, federal marshalls used to storm into homes of Mormons to find out if they were still practicing polygamy. That’s unthinkable today, but at some point, somebody thought that was OK.”

Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, a current officer with the Utah Highway Patrol, questioned if an ineffective practice was worth repealing just because it wasn’t the most effective. “Do we leave the tool behind just because it’s less effective?” Perry asked.

Others challenged the bill, saying that the merit of checkpoints is their deterrent effect. Since checkpoints by law have to be advertised to the public, they put drivers on notice not to drink and drive, said Paul Boyden of the Utah Prosecution Council. Boyden cited the same FBI study as Butterfield that also stated the merits of checkpoints as being a deterrent. “You want to advertise them,” Boyden said. “The point is that we don’t want to go arrest a bunch of high school kids, it's that we don’t want them drinking and coming down a canyon at 100 mph and rolling over.”

That was a point echoed by Layton City Police Chief and head of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, Terry Keefe.

“If I can prevent someone from violating the law I would much rather do that than arrest them for violating the law,” Keefe said. He also challenged that the checkpoints have been found to be constitutional; there’s only an issue when police overstep the bounds of the program, in which case arrests are generally thrown out.

It was Sheriff Winder’s challenge that checkpoints are vital tools for law enforcement in rural counties where it’s too difficult to do concentrated patrols of canyons and other areas that prompted Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, to move that the bill be studied in the interim. That motion, however, was quickly replaced by a motion to pass the bill out favorably by Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper.

Hughes was chafed by the idea that the Legislature would impede civil liberties through the use of the stops.

“If you can remove more drunk drivers through saturated patrols, then I think that delivers the greatest good,” Hughes said. “I worry about deterrence by compelling behavior through these checkpoints. I don’t think the ends justify the means.”

By a close vote, the committee agreed to pass the bill out by an 8-5 vote, and the bill will now head to the House floor for debate.

If you want to find out who your legislator is so you can contact them about this bill, click here.

If you want contact information for HB 140 sponsor Rep. David Butterfield, click here.

For more updates from the 2012 Legislature, follow @EricSPeterson on Twitter.

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