Law enforcement officials and drunken driving opponents argued Friday that Utah should maintain the practice of setting up checkpoints to catch DUI drivers on the streets.
But a House committee disagreed, approving HB140 sponsored by Rep. David Butterfield, R-Logan, who made the case that the checkpoints infringe on Utahns’ civil liberties, are an ineffective way of catching drunken drivers and should be done away with.
“We have to decide what is the balance between effective law enforcement … and protecting constitutional and civil rights,” Butterfield told the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. “That’s why we’re gathered here. That’s what we do.”
Eleven states have done away with DUI checkpoints, he said.
Butterfield met resistance from Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, who said people were dying in droves at Little Sahara and near Lake Powell and the Cottonwood canyons before law enforcement started putting up checkpoints at key, high-traffic times.
“There’s a reason the TSA [Transportation Security Administration] checks people coming onto planes … because wandering around an airport doesn’t quite cut the mustard,” said Winder, speaking on behalf of the state’s sheriffs.
Taking away checkpoints, Winder said, would deny law enforcement a tool it uses that has been deemed constitutional by the Utah and U.S. supreme courts.
Butterfield also argued that saturation patrols generate significantly more DUI arrests than checkpoints, and require less manpower.
“Saturation patrols do result in more arrests,” agreed Layton police Chief Terry Keefe, representing the Utah Chiefs of Police Association. “I don’t think there’s any argument on that point … but the deterrent value of sobriety or DUI check points allows us to stop the problem before it starts.”
The bill passed the committee on an 8-5 vote. Reps. Lee Perry and Richard Greenwood, current and former Utah Highway Patrol officers, respectively, voted against the ban.
It now goes to the full House for consideration, but could meet even more resistance in the Senate, which has traditionally supported tough DUI enforcement.
“At the end of the day we’re on the same team. We want to see our highways as safe as they can be and DUI drivers off the road,” said Butterfield. “It’s up to us as legislators to balance that requirement with the need to protect civil liberties and put our limited resources into the most effective tool.”