Supreme Court allows states to keep using roadblocks to curb drunk driving

The Supreme Court on Monday permitted states to continue using sobriety-check roadblocks in their efforts to curb drunken drivers. The action, however, set no national precedent and left unresolved a split among state courts as to whether such police roadblocks violate the privacy rights of motorists who are stopped.

The justices, without comment, let police in Virginia continue using the roadblocks, although they some day could agree in another case to study the controversy more fully.

In other matters, the court:

Agreed to decide in a Chicago case whether goods seized by police under a state law later found to be unconstitutional may be used as evidence in a criminal prosecution.

Turned away a challenge to the restart last year of a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, site in 1979 of the nation's worst commercial nuclear plant accident.

Agreed to decide in a dispute from Vermont and New York whether alleged polluters of interstate waters may be sued outside their home states.

Said it will referee a dispute between Kansas and Colorado over use of water from the Arkansas River.

Let an Illinois county outlaw the showing of sexually explicit scenes on outdoor drive-in movie theater screens visible from any private residence or public street.

The sobriety-checkpoint case reached the justices at a time when state legislatures, prodded by such groups as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, are cracking down on drunken drivers with stiffer penalties.

The court in 1979 struck down as unconstitutional the use of random stops of automobiles by police to check driver's licenses and car registration.

In that ruling, the court said random stops of motorists who are not suspected of breaking any law violate the Constitution's protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The court struck down a Delaware law that gave police officers broad discretion in choosing cars to stop for routine checks, saying the law left too much room for discrimination.

But the 1979 ruling did not bar states from ``developing methods for spot checks that involve less intrusion or that do not involve unconstrained exercise of discretion.'' Since then, many states and local police departments have initiated roadblock programs. Those tactics were upheld by state courts in Virginia, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

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