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Did drunk driving survey violate the rights of drivers?

The Fourth Amendment protects U.S. citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. This means that the government does not have the right to search an individual or his or her property without consent or a warrant. There are certain exceptions to this rule, but in general the government may not intrude into the lives of citizens without probable cause.

For example, police in New York may have probable cause to stop a driver to investigate him or her for DWI after observing the driver being reckless. Even at this point, however, the driver can choose to limit the search by refusing to take a Breathalyzer test, although that may result in negative consequences. New York law also allows drivers to call a DWI defense attorney to seek advice at this point.

Unfortunately, in some cases the government does overstep legal boundaries by violating the rights of New York drivers during DWI investigations. Some people have recently argued that the government has violated the Fourth Amendment rights of drivers in the name of conducting a nationwide roadway safety survey. In order to gather data about drunk driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has worked with private contractors and local police departments in order to randomly stop drivers to ask them about their drinking and driving, and drugged driving, habits. They have even paid drivers to take blood tests and leave saliva samples.

Although cooperation during these research-based stops is reportedly voluntary, one driver has filed a lawsuit claiming that the practice violates civil rights. What will come of that case remains to be seen. For now, the public outcry about this survey is a reminder that drivers do have rights, and when facing a DWI charge or a DWI investigation it can be very wise to obtain legal counsel in order to protect those rights.

Source: Associated Press, "Roadside survey of impaired driving causes outcry," Feb. 20, 2014

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