SALT LAKE CITY — Police peering into cars lined up at a sobriety checkpoint could be a thing of past.
The Utah House narrowly passed a bill Thursday that would prohibit police checkpoints except for fugitive searches, Amber Alerts or checks for wildlife and invasive species such as zebra mussels on boat propellers.
Rep. David Butterfield, R-Logan, called the practice "constitutionally dubious" even though the U.S. Supreme Court and the Utah Supreme Court have upheld the checks under certain guidelines. The Constitution, he said, protects people against unwarranted searches. The issue comes down to public safety versus civil liberties, he said.
HB140 passed 41-33 and now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Butterfield said he does not have a Senate sponsor for the bill but believes there are senators for whom his arguments will ring true.
Research shows sobriety checkpoints are not an effective method for apprehending drunk drivers, he said. Saturation patrols where many officers flood small areas near nightclubs or restaurants are a better way to catch impaired drivers, Butterfield said.
"For me, it really becomes kind of a no-brainer," he said.
Lawmakers favoring the bill lauded efforts to nab drunk drivers but said it should not come at the expense of civil rights.
"The government good intentions test is permeating our laws like a virus. It just goes everywhere," said Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper.
Speaking against the bill, Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, said driving is a privilege not a right, and courts have found checkpoints do not violate residents' liberties.
"I don't know why you would want to take that tool away when we're accomplishing great things in law enforcement," said Perry, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper.
Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, said police prefer to keep the streets safe through deterrence and prevention rather than arresting people.
"Law enforcement is not out there trying to play a game of gotcha," said Greenwood, a longtime police officer.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice have come out against the bill.