Utah law enforcement officials say Thursday's Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints is a victory for law enforcement everywhere.
But local ACLU officials say the ruling gives police too much power.The court ruled that the privacy rights of motorists are not violated when police try to curb drunken driving by setting up sobriety checkpoints. The 6-3 ruling upheld Michigan's sobriety checkpoint program.
"That's good news!" said Salt Lake County Sheriff Pete Hayward. "When drunken drivers violate the law and endanger lives, we've got to be able to execute some power to protect the citizens . . . Our job is to protect the public."
West Valley Police Chief Dennis Nordfelt was also pleased with the decision that gives officers a way to help curb what he calls the most serious crime committed in Utah.
"Drunken driving is a crime. It's not a mistake or a lack of judgment _ it's a crime," he said.
"It only makes sense that when a police department knows the most severe crime is occurring in its city, it ought to be allowed to do something about it."
Nordfelt said that except for prevention, roadblocks are the most effective way to reduce drunken driving, which continues to be a serious problem for his officers. Studies have shown that during certain hours, as many as 25 percent to 30 percent of drivers near 3300 South and Redwood Road, for example, are driving drunk.
Michele Parish-Pixler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Utah, said she is extremely disappointed in the decision because it gives police too much power.
"I think we've seen an erosion of the Fourth Amendment that should theoretically protect us from random, arbitrary searches," she said. "Simply because it's more convenient for police, they can stop people and search them if they feel like it."
"There are always bad apples and that's why you have to have restrictions on what they (police) can do," Parish-Pixler said. "To search the many to weed out the few is the antithesis of what our government is all about."
Nordfelt and Hayward said although the roadblocks can sometimes be inconvenient, most people understand the need to curb the drunken driving and support law enforcement efforts.
Drunken drivers killed 23,000 people nationwide last year. President Bush called drunken driving a problem "as crippling as crack" cocaine, and last December asked state and local governments to step up the fight against drunken drivers.
The traditional method police use to identify suspected drunken drivers is to observe traffic. Determining that method is not wholly effective, states in recent years began experimenting with other detection methods.
In the Michigan case, police directed all traffic headed in one direction to a roadside area where officers talked to motorists.
If there was no immediate evidence of intoxication, the motorist was given a traffic safety brochure and allowed to drive away. The average delay was about 30 seconds.
If some signs of intoxication were detected, a driver was directed to another area for further inquiry.