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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Bill Tracker: SB 59 and HB 253 Sobriety Checkpoints

Traffic checkpoints are not allowed in Texas. If HB 253 and SB 59 are passed, sobriety checkpoints will become part of law enforcement efforts to stop drunk driving.

The bill is carefully written to take into account the demands made by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Sanchez v. State, 856 S.W.2d 166. In that case, our highest criminal court stated that a traffic checkpoint needs to be a carefully regimented exercise with clear guidelines that are consistently applied. HB 253 and SB 59 attempt to satisfy these requirements. The United States Supreme Court already ruled that traffic checkpoints passed constitutional muster.

Do citizens want traffic checkpoints? Some mayors say yes. According to the Dallas Morning News, voters in Arlington favored their use by a three-to-one margin in a 1995 straw poll, and El Pasoans supported the idea by an even wider margin of 83 to 15 percent. Others, like Texans Against Checkpoints, say no.

Some sheriffs, like El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego, have set up roadblocks before and hope to continue the practice. Law enforcement regularly cites the checkpoint as a useful tool, but the debate over this could become heated, with the essential conflict in the majority Republican legislature being the expansion of government and authority against maintaining a hard line on crime.

Not so sure about the deterrent effect

I suppose most of us know someone who has gotten busted for DUI. Aside from the obvious reasons not to engage in that behavior, witnessing the type of extreme cost and hassle that someone must go through in a DUI case should be deterrent enough.

I would reckon there are a lot more folks out there who drive on the edge of intoxication than would admit it. I worry a little that checkpoints may make criminals out of folks who simply have a tolerance for alcohol and didn't realize that a BAC number they don't even know, could put them in jail.

If this law is passed, I would predict that Denton County will aggressively pursue it for revenue purposes. Funny how drunk driving was essentially ignored and tolerated for all those years until politicians figured out that they could make boatloads of money from prosecuting it.

I don't suppose our County Commissioners would take some of that added revenue and use it to prevent DUI by providing breathalyzer machines in bars and clubs? Nah...

Steve Southwell
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