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Over the legal limit

Over the legal limit

Get-tough laws in Massachusetts and nationwide are cracking down on drunk drivers. Are they also eroding our constitutional rights?

By Mark Schone | March 19, 2006

FOR YEARS, CALIFORNIA defense lawyer Lawrence Taylor, who focuses in drunken driving cases, has traveled the country telling anyone who will listen that the decades-long, nationwide crackdown on drunk drivers has posed a significant threat to the Bill of Rights-what he calls a dangerous ''DUI exception to the Constitution."

Whenever he steps outside the echo chamber of his fellow defense attorneys, however, he doesn't get a very warm reception. ''I've pretty much stopped doing radio," Taylor said recently. ''Most of the time it's a setup. They assure me I'll be the only one on the show, and then they surprise me with a woman from Mothers Against Drunk Driving whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver."

Taylor has learned to expect little sympathy for his clients and his cause-from the public or their elected representatives. As much as 90 percent of the US population supports get-tough measures like highway roadblocks and license revocation for drivers who refuse blood-alcohol tests, and lawmakers are respecting their wishes. Last fall, the Massachusetts Legislature approved the anti-drunken-driving package called Melanie's Law, and Rhode Island's governor will sign an even tougher bill by June. Rhode Island's version will make refusing a breath test a criminal offense, and will empower police to force motorists to provide blood samples.

The next step in the crackdown will be letting the police take the blood samples themselves-something Texas and Utah are already trying. ''Would you want a police officer to stick a hypodermic in you?" asks Taylor.

But the point of his crusade, Taylor says, is not saving drunk drivers from a clumsy jab with a needle. It's not really about drunk drivers at all. Taylor believes that a series of Supreme Court decisions upholding harsh drunken driving laws means that authorities can now abridge civil liberties almost at will, as long as they

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