CONCORD, N.H. (Nov. 30, 2017) – A bill prefiled in the New Hampshire House would ban sobriety checkpoints in the state. The law would not only end constitutionally dubious “searches” in New Hampshire, it would also thwart federal programs that heavily influence state traffic laws.
A coalition of five representatives prefiled House Bill 1283 (HB1283) for the 2018 legislative session. The legislation would ban law enforcement agencies in New Hampshire from conducting sobriety checkpoints.
Under current law, police can set up sobriety checkpoints as long as they get court orders authorizing them. HB1283 would place a blanket prohibition on sobriety checkpoints.
Although courts have deemed sobriety checkpoints constitutional, they violate the plain reading of Article 19 of the New Hampshire Constitution which guarantees the right to be secure from all unreasonable searches and seizures of his person, his houses, his papers, and all his possessions, and stipulates warrant requirements for searches. Rep. Brian Stone is one of the bill’s cosponsors. He explained his opposition to DUI checkpoints in a Facebook post.
“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 federal government provides a large amount of funding for DUI checkpoints across the U.S. through Impaired Driving Countermeasures Incentive Grants and other Department of Transportations programs. The impaired driving grant program awards money to states that “adopt and implement effective programs to reduce traffic safety problems resulting from individuals driving motor vehicles while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or the combination of alcohol and drugs or that enact alcohol ignition interlock laws.”
In a 2010 investigative piece, Mother Jones reported that the federal government provides the California Office of Traffic Safety about $100 million each year to promote responsible driving that reduces roadway deaths. Of that, $30 million goes into programs that fund drunken driving crackdowns, particularly checkpoints.
In order to qualify for these grants, states must comply with a wide range of highway safety mandates – many that don’t even relate to impaired driving. In effect, this funding empowers the federal government to dictate state and local traffic laws.
This is part of a broader trend. The federal government has fundamentally transformed state and local law enforcement agencies into a national police force, using funding to incentivize local cops to focus on federal law enforcement priorities.
Eliminating sobriety checkpoints in New Hampshire would cut at least a few of these federal funding strings. Ultimately, the only way to untangle the federal government from local police departments is to cut the funding. While HB1283 only addresses one small area, it takes a step in the right direction.
HB1283 will be referred to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee when the New Hampshire General Court regular session begins on Jan. 3.