WYOMING, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – It’s not just an increased volume of traffic that concerns law enforcement this July 4th holiday weekend. It’s also the fear of more motorists driving under the influence. One way police try to enforce the law is with sobriety checkpoints but they recently ran into a roadblock.
That figurative “roadblock” came after a DUI arrest made in western Pennsylvania by a cop outside of his jurisdiction. Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the driver based on a loophole in the law but as Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Hiller explains, that loophole is now closed.
Police from neighboring communities teamed up Thursday to keep pedestrians safe while crossing Wyoming Avenue for a 4th of July patriotic event. Through the years, police have also teamed up for DUI checkpoints. Wyoming Police Chief Christopher Mercavitch said, “The biggest value would be manpower. Because instead of one guy or two guys on the road doing something now you have a couple towns, multiple jurisdictions.”
But Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw a monkey wrench into those collaborative checkpoints in late May. Forty Fort Mayor Andy Tuzinski said, “Actually, we had to cancel two planned DUI checkpoints because of the Supreme Court decision.”
Based on existing law, the high court determined those checkpoints could only happen if participating municipal governments had signed agreements authorizing officers to do so. Lawmakers say something had to give. Rep. Aaron Kaufer (R-120th District) said, “This is to help make sure that the municipalities can work together for law enforcement to make sure that things are being done appropriately.”
On July 2, the Governor signed House Bill 1614 which closes the loophole just by having a police department’s chief give approval. Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20th District) who is Senate Judiciary Committee Chair said, “It was really, really an important initiative that we had to get finished in time for the fourth of July holiday.”
It’s a holiday and a season when a bad mix of drinking and driving often occurs. Mayor Tuzinski said, “We had a DUI checkpoint last year where we had somebody that was incredibly intoxicated that was heading to Edwardsville. The problem was he was heading north when Edwardsville was south.” When asked if that driver knew where he was Mayor Tuzinski responded “He had no idea where he was. I mean that’s somebody that could have killed someone.”
Now, the multi-jurisdictional enforcement initiative is legally back as an option. Rep. Kaufer said, “I’m happy to see that what we’ve been doing here for a long time time is going to continue to keep the people of northeastern Pennsylvania safe.”
The new law getting those multi-jurisdiction DUI checkpoints back on track took effect the moment Governor Wolf signed the measure.