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Game Changer: Do the Internet and Social Media Deter or Encourage DUI?

In Pittsburgh, PA, local police departments are concerned that social media is undermining DUI enforcement. According to police, “as soon as they set up a DUI checkpoint, people begin warning others on Twitter and Facebook of the exact location,” which requires them to relocate. This tactic brings to mind the constitutional constraints on roadblocks City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. (2000), which were created specifically to guard against what the U.S. Supreme Court called “roving patrols.” Without constitutional restrictions roadblocks could be set up by field officers and relocated at will, allowing police to stop vehicles without any legal basis. The Pittsburgh police may administratively prepare for roadblock relocation, but the strategy deserves administrative caution.

The local police’s frustration with the spread of information through social media may also reflect larger trends in DUI and criminal prosecution. The ease with which people can access public records – arrest information, scheduled DUI checkpoints – is unprecedented. While certain jurisdictions do not require that roadblocks be published, any public information can be easily publicized, which may result in a change in DUI enforcement and deterrent tactics over time. Pending litigation, website databases of mugshots and arrest records charge people up to $100 or more to get their mugshot taken down. And that’s just for one site. If police are frustrated by people using the Internet to undermine enforcement tactics, they should consider the upside. Greater availability of public information can work as a deterrent in and of itself.

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