A recent push to ban the use of sobriety checkpoints in New Hampshire died in the Senate on Thursday after a majority of senators rallied behind the practice.
By a vote of 16-7, the chamber voted down House Bill 1283, which would prohibit the use of the checkpoints by police departments. These checkpoints have been used in New Hampshire since 2003 as a means to deter and catch impaired drivers. Police departments throughout the state use the technique to block off stretches of roads and detain drivers to determine their sobriety. Although many contest the constitutionality of such stops and question their effectiveness, police departments argue that sobriety checkpoints, which can detain hundreds of motorists in a night, act as a powerful tool to combat drunk driving.
Under present NH law, local law enforcement agencies must obtain a Superior Court order first, and must publish the times and general location in a newspaper.
HB 1283 would have put an end to it. Adopted by voice vote in the House, it had entered the Senate with bipartisan support. But on Thursday that momentum stalled. Speaking on the floor, Sen. Bill Gannon, R-Sandown, said the practice should be continued. “Deterrence, deterrence, deterrence,” he said. “It’s a very small, small 30 seconds of your life,” he said of the stops. “I don’t mind 30 seconds if it saves one life.”
But opponents see it differently. Many say the practice violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizures. By stopping every car at a checkpoint without suspicion, drivers’ rights are being violated.
The Supreme Court has upheld the use of sobriety checkpoints, exempting them from Fourth Amendment prohibitions in a 1990 case in the name of public safety. But opponents in the Senate said the stops contravene the spirit of the Constitution.
And Sen. Andy Sanborn took aim at the claims of effectiveness. A review by the Monitor last year found that since 2006, fewer than 1 percent of drivers have been charged with driving while intoxicated. And of 61 people arrested in 2016 at checkpoints, only 29 were charged with DWI, the review found.
“The proof’s not in the pudding in this case,” Sanborn said. A better solution, he argued, would be to devote resources toward expanding patrols and other methods.
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