Sobriety checkpoint debate renews ahead of session

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Associated Press

Posted on December 17, 2012 at 3:32 PM

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Advocacy groups calling for sobriety checkpoints in Texas want the state to crack down harder on drunken drivers, but no bills that would legalize the long-outlawed practice have been filed on the eve of the legislative session following years of unsuccessful attempts, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Texas leads the nation in drunken-driving deaths. Of the more than 10,000 people killed in alcohol-related crashes nationwide in 2010, statistics show that nearly 12 percent were in the Lone Star State.

Sobriety checkpoints are allowed in 38 states but have been outlawed in Texas for nearly two decades. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (http://bit.ly/12sU7vx) reported that even as groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving continue to call on Texas to join the list, the group acknowledges that momentum isn't on its side.

Checkpoints are generally conducted by stopping vehicles based on some numeric value, such as every third vehicle. Proposals for checkpoints have been made in nearly every legislative session in Texas since 1994, when the state Court of Criminal Appeals ruled the practice unconstitutional unless a statewide governmental entity establishes guidelines.

"The Legislature knows as soon as they provide guidelines, somebody is going to start running" checkpoints, said Bill Lewis, the public policy director for the Texas chapter of MADD. "The Legislature so far has not wanted us to run sobriety checkpoints."

Among the opponents to previously filed checkpoint bills are civil rights groups.

"I think this is just cheap political maneuvering that's going on," said Jim Harrington, director of the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project. "No. 1, checkpoints are not necessary, and No. 2, they would expand police power enormously. Every time you do that, they have more discretion and they can use it in discriminatory ways."

MADD officials say the average drunken driver has been intoxicated at least 80 times before he or she is ever arrested once. Earlier this month, the state House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee took up sobriety checkpoints while reviewing an interim charge to study DWI laws.

Other suggestions at the hearing including additional "no refusal" weekends, when breath tests and blood tests are sped up on suspected drunken drivers pulled over by police. Mandatory ignition interlocks for first-time DWI offenders is also a proposal that could go in front of lawmakers this year.

Republican state Rep. Bill Zedler, a member of the committee, said he supports interlocks but has "some problems" with sobriety checkpoints.

"Anytime you start stopping people without justifiable cause ... I think that creates a problem," he said.

Zedler represent Arlington, which is among the communities expected to again ask lawmakers to allow the checkpoints. Will Johnson, the city's interim police chief, said 67 percent of fatal crashes in Arlington this year were linked to drunken drivers.

"The number of intoxicated drivers on our roadways is unacceptable," he said.

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Information from: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, http://www.star-telegram.com

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