George Mason Law School

One free swerve is one too many

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October 23, 2009

2:25 AM

When it comes to drunk driving, it seems Virginia police officers have taken a cue from the military: Unless it’s blatant, don’t ask, don’t tell.

In light of a recent Virginia Supreme Court ruling — which Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts described police as granting “drunk drivers one ‘free swerve’,” drivers under the influence are free from any legal pull-overs by police officers unless a traffic violation is undoubtedly committed. Anonymous tips — even from programs such as the “Drunk Busters Hotline” — were deemed useless based on a potential lack of veracity and the possible fear of unconstitutionality of the situation. With the threat of being charged with unwarranted search and seizure, Virginia police officers are now required to ignore any claims from tipsters concerning potentially intoxicated motorists.

Roberts attempted to heighten the concern for public safety by openly stating his disapproval of the ruling and calling for an appeal. Unfortunately, Roberts’s peers refused to hear the case based on a U.S. Supreme Court precedent involving an anonymous tip accusing a man of carrying a gun. The application of this ruling will, without a doubt, serve as a get-out-of-jail-free card for any drunk wishing to take a joy ride through the heavily populated streets of Virginia’s cities. In terms of drunk driving and the likely injury or death of an unfortunate person, warning signs are not necessary.

In a society where morality and the overwhelming concern for doing what’s right seem to take precedence over personal liberty and individuality, one would think that attempting to identify a potentially fatal driver and saving the lives of others would be praised.

The issue of morality over constitutionality has been factored into innumerable legal cases. Although incredibly cliche but pertinent, the legality of abortion is only an extreme issue because of the argument between the percieved moral wrong doing of killing another human being and taking away an important personal liberty. The same argument of morality and indecency plausibly pertains to the case at hand. If a drunk driver is on the loose, it is at least decent to report this less significant crime before a more dangerous event occurs.

In the final ruling from the Supreme Court of Virginia, the severity of drunk driving is unsafely diminished to a mere issue of constitutionality and a supposed deficit of veritable information; the line between morality and constitutionality has frequently been crossed. Evidently, the morals of both the U.S. and Virginia justices are questionable.

The aura of unconstitutionality seems to encompass the legal practices of justices. With a legal system already tainted by the wraths of religious radicals and conservative figureheads and blemished by extremely literal interpretations of the Constitution, one would think that wholesome morality and spiritual decency would trump all other things. Seemingly, the lives of pedestrians and innocent bystanders are not as valuable as the “correct” interpretation of the Constitution.

According to a statistic so fittingly given by Roberts, close to 13,000 people die in alcohol-related car crashes a year. That’s approximately one fatality every 40 minutes. With the emergence of Virginia’s new ruling, the danger imposed by drunk driving increases and the acerbity of the crime decreases. Good Samaritans are left helpless, and all other people are put in danger. Morality wages into an astounding number of social laws and practices.

Rather than worrying about the spirituality of cells and their unethical disposal, maybe keeping drunks off the road would be a better idea. This is a time to cross the line between morality and constitutionality.

E-mail Victoria Narine at [email protected]

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