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Ohio sobriety checkpoints not always that effective

Sobriety checkpoints are permitted in Ohio. In most circumstances, law enforcement is not allowed to randomly stop individuals without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or probable cause for an arrest. "Dragnets" are forbidden by the U.S. Constitution except in rare circumstances and the U.S. Supreme Court has authorized sobriety checkpoints due to the grave risk that drunk drivers present to all other motorists.

The operation of these checkpoints is strictly controlled and police must follow specific guidelines that limit the officers' discretion and that prevent it from becoming an illegal opportunity to target or profile certain drivers.

Ohio law enforcement must demonstrate that an area has a significant history of OVI or drunk driving crashes or impaired driving. They then have to develop specific guidelines that will detail the procedure to be employed by the officers conducting the checkpoint. The location and time of the checkpoint also must be published in advance.

The checkpoint typically takes place on a road with signs indicating its location. The area is well-marked with uniformed officers and police vehicles, where officers will randomly examine drivers based on their guidelines looking for "articulable signs of alcohol impairment."

If they observe these signs, they will ask the driver to perform field sobriety tests and if the officer thinks these tests indicate impairment, they will then have the driver provide a breath sample for a portable breath-testing device. If that exceeds the legal limit of 0.08 blood alcohol content, they will be arrested on OVI charges.

While the ostensible purpose of these checkpoints is to capture impaired drivers, they tend to have fairly low arrest rates. A recent checkpoint in Ohio stopped about 500 drivers but only netted 2 OVI arrests.

Police will defend this low production by claiming the checkpoints provide a deterrent. That deterrent value, however, is questionable, given the time and expense of operating them. Some argue that simply patrolling the streets and looking for impaired drivers is more effective, less expensive and less a violation of constitutional rights.

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