Sobriety (DWI) Checkpoints are illegal, but is there a local agency ignoring that?

The Williamson County Attorney’s office is investigating a complaint of an illegal sobriety checkpoint near Interstate 35 last month.

A woman said people appearing to be police officers stopped her at about 11 p.m. Jan. 20 along on the westbound access road of FM 1431 at I-35 in Round Rock, County Attorney Jana Duty said.

While the County Attorney is treating this as a fake sobriety checkpoint, merely because the relevant agencies are denying that they did it, I am not so sure.

The men, claiming to be police officers, pulled over several cars Jan. 20 at I-35 and 1431, near the new Ikea store in Round Rock.

It was about 11 p.m. on Jan. 20 when at least one woman was pulled over by two men claiming to be police officers.

The witness reported that two police cars, one with lights on top and one unmarked, had closed a lane of traffic on FM 1431 and had stopped three to four cars. A man who said he was a police officer approached the woman’s car and told her the stop was a checkpoint to search for drunk drivers.

The woman said that the man asked her to breathe into a portable Breathalyzer, while another man who also appeared to be an officer took her driver’s license and insurance card to one of the cars. Her car was searched, her drivers license checked and she was even asked to take a Breathalyzer test.

The problem is, this was no legal sobriety checkpoint.

Williamson County authorities say two men set up traffic cones on the westbound lanes of 1431, diverting cars into one lane. Then, they told drivers they were conducting a sobriety checkpoint.

The first officers asked for a driver’s license, insurance, then gave it to other officer in the unmarked car. They told her they needed to search her car, asked her to get out, looked in the trunk, then shut it, and then asked her to actually blow into a portable breath test.

The problem is, sobriety checkpoints are illegal in Texas, which might explain why the local law enforcement agencies are denying ti was them.

According to a witness, one of the patrol cars looked like a black and white cruiser with a red and blue light bar on top. The other looked like a white Crown Victoria without markings.

Jana Duty, the Williamson County Attorney, is not ruling out that this may have been a local law enforcement agency with rogue officers.

Now, I have discussed that sobriety checkpoints are CURRENTLY illegal in Texas, but if some legislators have their way, that won’t be the case for long.

Texas Congressman Chris Harris, from Tarrant County, recently filed SB 233, which will allow local law enforcement agencies to set up Sobriety Checkpoints for boats.

Texas Congressman Todd Smith, from Tarrant County, filed H.B. 253 which would make Sobriety Checkpoints legal. This is not the first time he has tried to get this law passed. So far, the legislature has realized that most Texans don’t want this.

Texas Congressman Judith Zaffirini, from Bexar County, also filed a bill, S.B. 59, which would allow Sobriety Checkpoints.

I have spoken to Judges, prosecutors, police officers (my brother is even a police officer), and the overwhelming consensus is that people don’t want these checkpoints. It is bad enough that if you have something to drink, commit a traffic offense, and then can’t do the proscribed agility tests (which you shouldn’t attempt to do anyway), you are going to jail. Now they want to take the traffic offense requirement away.

Further, if the goal of a checkpoint is to catch DWI drivers, which I question that that is the main reason law enforcement agencies use them, statistically, more drivers are stopped by regular patrols, than having all the officers gathered in one place. This, and other problems with checkpoints are discussed quite well in this Denver Post article. As you will see in the article, even one of the Supreme Court Justices dislikes them.

The general public doesn’t want these checkpoints; hopefully, the legislature is listening.

Posted in Austin DWI, Austin Police, News, Sobriety Checkpoints | Comments Off