ACLU of Rhode Island Urges Governor to Reject Unconstitutional Roadblocks

January 5, 2005 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE–The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today urged Governor Donald Carcieri to reject calls to review a 1989 state Supreme Court ruling, which found that random sobriety roadblocks violate the state constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Drunk driving is a very serious problem, and there can be legitimate disagreements over how best to deal with it,” said ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown. “However, many alternatives – most notably the use of roving patrols – exist to try to address the problem of drunk driving in a systematic way, without infringing on fundamental privacy rights.”

Today’s action comes in response to news that Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch recently asked the governor to seek a Supreme Court advisory opinion revisiting the issue.

The ACLU has long opposed the roadblock practice, which allows law enforcement officers to randomly stop cars and perform driver sobriety checks without any suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. In a letter to Gov. Carcieri, the ACLU’s Brown questioned the governor’s legal authority to request an advisory opinion in this circumstance, and urged him instead to focus on strategies that do not infringe on privacy rights, such as the expanded use of roving patrols on the highways that would target erratic driving and other behavior that might indicate an intoxicated driver.

The ACLU also referred to a 2002 study of traffic stops in Rhode Island, which found that black and Hispanic drivers are more likely to be stopped and have their cars searched than white drivers, and expressed concern that roadblocks could lead to an increase in racial profiling.

“Even if roadblock protocol ensures that drivers will be pulled over on a strictly random basis, police will have enormous discretion to decide which drivers deserve further scrutiny,” Brown said.

For a copy of the ACLU letter, go to:

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