Friday, December 21, 2012

Time for the annual crackdown on the Fourth Amendment

Once again it's that time of year when law enforcement agencies get together to celebrate the demise of the Fourth Amendment and crack down on suspected drunk drivers.

Local law enforcement agencies in the Houston area were the recipients of a $295,000 state grant that will allow them to put an additional 50 officers out on the streets between now and New Year's. What that really means is that what's left of the Fourth Amendment is being shredded and we're footing the bill.

Of course the message given to the public through the media is that motorists who drink and drive, whether legally or not, are a menace to the rest of us on the roadways. But the truth of the matter is most drivers who are arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated aren't stopped because they're driving dangerously. They are pulled over because they failed to signal a lane change, they failed to signal a turn (even in a must-turn lane), they were speeding or their car had some sort of equipment issue (cracked taillight, burned out turn signal or expired plates).

A good number of these drivers will be subjected to various roadside calisthenics and then taken to a station where they are asked to blow into the state's breath test machine under threat of having a needle jabbed in their arm. The authority to jab that needle in the arm will be given by a judge who volunteered to sign "review" warrant applications regardless of whether the affidavit is a fill-in-the-blank or a form affidavit. Regardless of whether the affidavit is conclusory or even alleges probable cause exists to believe the blood is evidence of a crime.

And all of this for a crime that's one step removed from a traffic ticket.

The judges who volunteer to participate step across the line from a neutral and detached magistrate to a member of the law enforcement team. And in a county in which most of the judges are part of the same club, the odds of one judge ruling that his or her colleague signed a warrant application in error are slim and none.

Just remember that the judges who ignore the Fourth Amendment and rubber stamp warrant applications on No Refusal Weekends are the same judges who are going to decide if that traffic stop in that dope case was bad or if that 911 tape is coming in on that domestic assault case.

Ignoring the Fourth Amendment gets easier the more you do it. Fill-in-the-blank affidavit? No problem. Affidavit template on the computer? No one cares. Conclusory statements? You've got to do better than that, counselor.

But since the police and the judges set up drunk drivers as the bogeymen, few people bother to question whether the shredding of the Fourth Amendment is worth the benefit. And, once the public makes it known that they don't mind those drunk drivers being denied their constitutional rights, it makes it easier for the police to do it the next time.

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