By Annabelle Bamforth
On February 22nd, New Hampshire’s House of Representatives passed HB 1283,a Republican-led bill that would prohibit police from conducting sobriety checkpoints in the state. The bill’s text consists simply of the following: “Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, no law enforcement officer or agency shall establish or conduct sobriety checkpoints.”
The bill was prefiled back in November 2017 ahead of the 2018 legislative session. The House vote follows the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee’s 12-8 recommendation to go forward with the legislation; the next step for HB 1283 is a vote in the state Senate.
According to the House Record of February 16th, the committee’s majority provided the following statement:
Presently, sobriety checkpoints are already limited and require a court order.
While no one wants to see an increase in DWI, sobriety checkpoints are not a solution to decrease DWI arrests. The committee heard testimony on how ineffective sobriety checkpoints are. The testimony by a state trooper showed that less than 1% of drivers who are stopped at a checkpoint were charged with DWI. Some places even discounted sobriety checkpoints due to the rate being even lower. The testimony revealed this number is lower than the amount of arrests police would have made if they were out on patrol looking
for people suspected of DWI. The trooper testified checkpoints have gone down in recent years and the state would still be able to use grants to increase patrols. There was further concern that DWI checkpoints invade a driver’s right to be free from unlawful seizures. The majority feels checkpoints can lead to a worsening of public/police relations as many people will be upset after being stopped and detained without any evidence of
them doing anything wrong. Additionally the officers involved are paid overtime which makes a flawed practice even more expensive. In order to increase DWI arrests while increasing our liberty, sobriety checkpoints should be abolished.
The committee’s minority provided a statement as well:
The minority of the committee believes that sobriety checkpoints are one of the many tools that police departments have at their disposal. The circumstances under which a sobriety checkpoint can be conducted are highly regulated. While the number of sobriety checkpoints being held has gone down in recent years, the minority of the committee believes that the decision to conduct them should remain with the police departments. If the police believe that the test is another way to keep drunk drivers off the road, the elected representatives of the people should not prohibit the police from using that tool to protect us on the road from drunk drivers.
State Police Captain John Marasco opposed the bill, saying that “the main function behind the sobriety check point is to make sure that we prevent tragedy on the roadways,” according to a report from NECN.
Brian Stone, a prime sponsor of HB 1283, wrote last year regarding police sobriety checkpoints:
I’m of the opinion that they infringe on our rights, are costly, worsen police public relations, are too broad with minimal effect, and that there are better options to address DUI that law enforcement may use that are proven to be more effective and less costly.
The Concord Monitor examined the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints in New Hampshire in a 2017 article, and noted that according to their review of two years’ worth of police report data, “on average, sobriety checkpoints result in just as many arrests for crimes unrelated to drivers’ blood-alcohol content,” and the revelation of this data “could expose the law to a challenge.”
The Monitor reported that about 85,000 drivers have been stopped at a sobriety checkpoint in New Hampshire over the last decade, and the percentage of drivers accused of drunk driving has not been more than 1 percent since 2006. According to Staff Sgt. Charles Johnston, “the number of fatal car crashes statewide— and the proportion related to alcohol consumption— have ‘remained relatively constant each year’ despite efforts to educate drivers and prosecute offenders.”