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PA Supreme Court Upholds Police Roadblocks
Pennsylvania high court upholds police roadblocks despite evidence of less intrusive and more effective alternatives.

Pennsylvania Supreme CourtOn Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the state's practice of stopping motorists at highway checkpoints, despite evidence that less-intrusive practical alternatives exist. Justice Thomas Saylor wrote for the majority that "the Court has found that suspicionless stops at such roadblocks are constitutionally reasonable."

The defendants in the case had argued that statewide data showed that police patrols which only pulled over drivers exhibiting signs of impairment such as swerving were eleven times more likely to produce an arrest than suspicionless roadblocks. On average, state data from 2000-2001 also showed 99.29 percent of the people inconvenienced by police DUI roadblocks were innocent, although police often use these stops as an excuse to issue expensive citations for other infractions such as not wearing a seatbelt. Moreover, it takes 53 percent more manpower to achieve a drunk driving arrest with a roadblock than with less-intrusive roaming patrols.

The court majority did not want to decide a constitutional issue on the basis of statistics. "The judiciary is in poor position to make judgments concerning the most effective among multiple reasonable police alternatives," the majority wrote.

Justices Russell Nigro and Max Baer strongly disagreed, writing, "In the end, the statistics tell the simple tale that if more police manpower had been allocated to roving patrols instead of checkpoints, more drunk drivers would have been removed from the roads and our roads would have been safer places to travel."

Full text of dissent (56k PDF format). The majority opinion is available in the source link below in 110k PDF format.

Source: Pennsylvania v. Beaman (Pennsylvania Supreme Court, 8/15/2005)

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