Bill would allow checkpoints in Texas - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Bill would allow checkpoints in Texas

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Posted: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 8:45 am, Fri Feb 8, 2013.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - In 2005, college student Sean Carter got in a truck with friends who had been drinking.

The vehicle spun on the rain-slicked streets of Wichita Falls and smashed into a tree. His friends walked away unharmed but he was left brain damaged, unable to speak and paralyzed.

On Wednesday, using a special computer to speak his thoughts to state lawmakers, Carter urged senators to have Texas join 39 states that allow police to set up road blocks to look for drunken drivers.

"I know there was a reason I did not die in the truck," Carter told members of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. Speakers connected to a keyboard mounted on his wheelchair allowed lawmakers to hear his remarks.

"One of the things I have chosen to do to make this life livable is to ensure no one else has to live like I do," he said.

But civil libertarians and criminal defense attorneys, while condemning drunken driving, say sobriety checkpoints are ineffective, promote racial profiling and treat innocent people like criminals.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Texas' 1,292 deaths in alcohol-related crashes in 2007 were the most in the nation. Another 30,000 were injured.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, police and many local government associations support creating sobriety checkpoints, which have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court but haven't been allowed in Texas since 1994. That's when the state Court of Criminal Appeals ruled they violated the Texas Constitution because there were no statewide guidelines.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, now thinks he has a bill that would set the guidelines needed to allow checkpoints while preventing racial profiling and harassment of sober drivers.

Under Carona's bill, police would be required to consider the number of drunken driving arrests and accidents in an area the previous year. And checkpoints must be chosen without regard to the ethnic or economic makeup of an area.

Choosing which vehicle to stop must be predictable, such as stopping every fourth car. And once they've made a stop, drivers would not be forced to show their license and proof of insurance or get out of the car without a "reasonable suspicion" of an offense.

"Some believe law enforcement can set up a sobriety checkpoint for whatever reason, any place, any time," Carona said. "That's not the case."

Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd, who conducted checkpoints when he was with the Arlington police force, said experienced officers can pick out suspected drunk drivers within seconds.

"You just engage in brief conversation," Boyd said. "You're looking for bloodshot eyes, you're looking for slurred speech."

But defense attorney Kristen Etter said the bill's restrictions on police are too vague.

Once a car is pulled over, she said, police could use almost any reason to conduct field sobriety tests or demand license and insurance documentation.

"The majority of Texans do not drink and drive," Etter said. "Innocent people who are trying to get home to their families should not be treated as criminals."

Matt Simpson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said police do a better job of cracking down on drunk drivers through coordinated patrols. A checkpoint may stop hundreds of cars and find no drunken drivers.

The panel did not vote on the bill although its eventual passage to the full Senate is expected.

Carona, the committee chair said he would consider suggestions that police be required to videotape checkpoints and that an elected official, such as county sheriff, must approve them in advance.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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