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Tim joined the movement after what he believes was intrusive questioning at a sobriety stop. Tim says he and his wife were headed to Taco Bell on a Friday night a couple of years ago when they came upon a checkpoint. Tim hadn't been drinking, but an officer asked if he had and wanted to know where he'd been and where he was going.
I can't believe they just asked me those questions, Tim thought as he rolled away from the checkpoint.
His wife was also incensed.
"I had to roll my window up before she opened her mouth," Tim says.
"I know it doesn't seem like a lot," he adds, "but it was."
Mikkelsen and Tim argue that the checkpoints violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, which protect against unreasonable search and seizure and require due process.
Kansas City lawyer Jay Norton says fighting DUI arrests from properly conducted checkpoints is difficult. He says the courts have upheld them so many times, the chance of mounting a legal challenge to their use is unlikely to succeed. That doesn't mean he agrees with their use. He doesn't. He frequently ridicules them on his blog, kansas-dui.blogspot.com.
"They had to do some pretty serious gymnastics to make that comport with the Constitution," Norton says. "And I don't think it does. I don't think it can. I think the founders of this country would be rolling in their graves thinking about these checkpoints that get set up to shake everybody down."
The U.S. Supreme Court and many state courts have upheld the use of DUI checkpoints, ruling that the benefits of getting drunken drivers off the road outweigh the faults. They're popular, too — 39 states and Washington, D.C., use them.
Their legality may not be in question, but their effectiveness is more difficult to pin down. Proving that DUI-related deaths are dropping nationwide is easy. It's harder, however, to prove that checkpoints are driving the decline.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, in which a driver has a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher, dropped nationwide from 13,491 in 2006 to 10,839 in 2009. But the agency's data don't neatly match the use of checkpoints with declines in DUI-related deaths.
Missouri and Kansas both use checkpoints, but their data are moving in different directions. Missouri saw drunken-driving fatalities fall from 386 to 300 between 2006 and 2009. But impaired-driving deaths in Kansas rose from 125 in 2006 to 154 in 2009. Meanwhile, some states that have outlawed checkpoints, including Idaho and Minnesota, saw DUI-related fatalities drop significantly in the same time period.
Statistics from police departments have the same ambiguity. Checkpoints in the Kansas City metro last summer yielded varying results, including eight DUI arrests out of approximately 200 stopped drivers (4 percent), 24 DUI arrests from 1,158 stops (2 percent) and 11 arrests from 540 (2 percent). A checkpoint last June in Olathe stopped 463 drivers and netted three DUI arrests (0.6 percent).
Sgt. Ron Podraza, who supervises the KCPD's DUI unit, did not respond to interview requests.
It's unclear whether these low percentages mean that checkpoints are scaring drinkers into using designated drivers or that they're ineffective.
Anti-checkpoint advocates say a better, less intrusive alternative would be more "saturation patrols," in which an increased number of police cars patrol an area known for drunken-driving incidents, as opposed to blocking off a stretch of road. Local authorities already conduct saturation patrols, but checkpoint opponents want them used exclusively. Their theory has some support.