06 April 2009

What letter-grade applies to 3.26% success?

Over the weekend, the KCPD and the JackCo Sheriff's Department put together a sobriety checkpoint in Waldo.
Hours spent: 5
Vehicles stopped: 368
DUI arrests: 12
For the purpose of the roadblock, there was reason to detain only 3.26% of all drivers actually detained without suspicion.
Brace yourself — here comes another lesson in Our Crusty History:
Back when we were part of England, judges would issue Writs of Assistance. These writs were nonspecific general warrants that didn't expire. One's property could be searched by Writ's bearer at any time, for any reason. The bearer could freely transfer his Writ to another, and that new bearer had all the same rights.
This busybodying didn't go over very well with our forbearers. Oh no, not at all.
However, when challenged, the government reaffirmed the legality of such general warrants — among other things — in the unpopular Townsend Acts. (The Townsend Acts eventually led to the Boston Tea Party, which eventually lead to the Revolution, which would eventually lead to Purple Rain.)
After the colonists and the British had a pretty ugly breakup, Writs of Assistance were abolished in the new United States. Just to ensure the new government couldn't engage in such other odious intrusions, the Framers permabanned such general warrants with the Fourth Amendment.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
In short, if the government intends to stop you, search your person or property, or take possession of your stuff, it must have (1) "probable cause" (a reasonable belief that you committed a crime), plus (2) a sworn document that (3) says in detail the purpose for the search and/or arrest. 
Sounds reasonable. In fact, that's the definition of a "reasonable search."
Well, it was. Not so much anymore. When it comes to vehicles, modern Supreme Courts have held that there's pretty much no such thing as an "unreasonable search." They've blessed "sobriety checkpoints" as a permissible exercise of the government's police powers, thus giving law enforcement officers the open-ended power to stop and search any person inside any vehicle without requiring those officers to have any reason to do so. It's a modern-day Writ of Assistance — suspicionless, indefinite seizures and searches that are, by definition, unconstitutional under a plain-language reading of the Fourth Amendment.
I'm not even going to go off on the tangent that laws that compel you to provide breath or blood evidence to aid in your own criminal conviction seem to run afoul of the Fifth Amendment's prohibition against self-incrimination.
I'm not saying that law enforcement has no business going after dangerous drivers. Of course they do. I'm saying that obligation doesn't give them an open-ended fishing license. Law enforcement also has an obligation to investigate property crimes, but that doesn't give them the right to toss every residence in your vicinity because you got robbed.
Pragmatically, a 3.26% success rate just doesn't indicate an efficient use of resources either. It's certainly not productive enough to justify eroding the people's Constitutional Rights.
Alright, I've donned my Nomex Underoos in anticipation of the "drunk drivers are worse than Hitler" flaming I expect to be forthcoming.

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