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Washington Governor Pushing Roadblock Legislation
Washington state governor advocates legislation to overturn a state supreme court ban on roadblocks.

Governor GregoireWashington state Governor Chris Gregoire (D) announced Monday that she would push for the authority to set up roadblocks to detain and question motorists suspected of no wrongdoing. Gregoire said new legislation would be required to accomplish this in the name of stopping drunk driving. The stops would also enable state and local governments to collect millions in additional federal grant money.

"Sobriety checkpoints will be an important tool for law enforcement to catch drunk drivers and will help keep families safer when they are on the road," Gregoire said.

Washington is currently one of eleven states that prohibits the use of roadblocks as a violation of state constitutional protections against warantless searches. Gregoire's proposal attempts to get around this by creating a system where police would ask a judge to approve a blanket search warrant on a county-by-county basis. The legislation would also restrict roadblocks to locations which have had an "alcohol-related" collision within a one-mile radius. It is unclear how these provisions would satisfy the state's highest court.

"This court has consistently expressed displeasure with random and suspicionless searches, reasoning that they amount to nothing more than an impermissible fishing expedition," Washington's Supreme Court wrote in a unanimous decision last April.

In practice, drunk driving (DUI) roadblocks find few intoxicated motorists. Instead, they are successful in generating traffic citations, particularly from motorists who choose not to wear a seat belt or who forget to bring their driver's license. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in upholding the legality of roadblocks within its borders in 2005 cited statewide data that showed 99.29 percent of the people inconvenienced by police DUI roadblocks from 2000 to 2001 were innocent. It also found that roadblocks required 53 percent more manpower to achieve a drunk driving arrest when compared to less-intrusive roaming patrols (read decision).

Gregoire tapped state House Judiciary Chairman Patricia Lantz (D-Gig Harbor) to introduce the legislation on her behalf. Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming also prohibit roadblocks.