Texas lawmakers consider DWI stops

When it comes to sobriety checkpoints, Texas is actually in the minority. Although 38 other states across the country claim that checkpoints have reduced driving while intoxicated violations by as much as 20 percent, Texas lawmakers have not yet allowed them.

Several advocacy groups against drunk driving claim that Texas’ prohibition against checkpoints accounts for the state’s high number of alcohol-related crashes. The number of DWI fatalities in Texas is among the highest in the nation. For example, although Texas has only about two-thirds the population of California, its number of DWI fatalities in 2010 was substantially higher.

According to one source, Texas had 1,213 alcohol-related fatalities in 2010, compared to only 774 in California.

Yet there may be legal considerations weighing against checkpoints. In a typical DWI stop, there are procedures that police must follow, of which a prerequisite is probable cause. In order for probable cause to warrant an initial DWI stop, an officer usually must observe a traffic violation of see some behavior in an individual’s driving that suggests a driver may be intoxicated. Without adequate probable cause, any subsequent field sobriety testing or breath or blood alcohol testing may be found inadmissible in court.

Yet sobriety checkpoints — by stopping every car at a designated location or roadblock — may seem to partially bypass the initial probable cause requirement. In other states, individuals stopped at such checkpoints are required to communicate with the officer. The officer will determine whether probable cause exists for further field sobriety testing based on that interaction. Yet the possibility remains that an officer could claim to smell alcohol on a driver’s breath, only to have breath or blood alcohol tests later reveal they had a 0.0 blood alcohol level.

Source: paisano-online.com, “SAPD to implement DWI checkpoints,” Randy Lopez, Jan. 31, 2013

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