Are DWI Checkpoints Legal in North Carolina?

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Drinking and driving can come with serious consequences, including substantial fines, jail time, and suspension or revocation of your license. Importantly, if you reside in North Carolina or are traveling through the state, you should be aware that DWI checkpoints are legal. Not only can police stop your vehicle while you’re driving if they have reasonable suspicion to believe that you’re intoxicated — but law enforcement can also apprehend you at a designated roadside sobriety checkpoint.

What is a DWI Checkpoint?

DWI checkpoints are a common tactic used by law enforcement to help keep intoxicated drivers off the road. Also sometimes referred to as “sobriety checkpoints” or “DWI roadblocks,” these designated locations are set up in order for police to stop vehicles and question drivers regarding alcohol or drug use. If an officer has reasonable suspicion to believe a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they can administer a portable breath test. If the results show that your BAC is .08% or higher, or the officer otherwise develops probable cause that you are driving while impaired,, you can be arrested for a DWI.

Are DWI Checkpoints Legal in North Carolina?

If you were arrested at a sobriety checkpoint, you might be wondering, “are DWI checkpoints legal in North Carolina?” Notably, DWI checkpoints are legal under state statute and the North Carolina Constitution. While the United States Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures of your person and/or property, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that DWI checkpoints are not in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Even though DWI checkpoints are legal, there are certain criteria with which law enforcement must comply. Under North Carolina General Statute 20-16.3A, police must adhere to the following rules in order for a stop at a sobriety checkpoint to be lawful:

  • The checkpoint must have an established purpose — DWI checkpoints cannot be randomly set up. They must be designated in advance and have a specific objective.
  • The checkpoint must be visible — The public must be made aware that a DWI checkpoint has been set up by law enforcement by having a minimum of one police vehicle with its blue lights in operation while the stops are being conducted.
  • The law enforcement agency must operate the checkpoint under a written policy — The law enforcement agency must operate under a written policy that provides guidelines for the checkpoint pattern. However, the pattern itself does not need to be in writing. This may be the agency’s own policy or the policy of another agency, but no individual officer has the discretion to determine what vehicles are stopped. The policy may include contingency provisions for altering the pattern if warranted by traffic conditions.
  • Checkpoint placement must be random — The motor vehicle checkpoint stops must be placed randomly or be statistically indicated. Agencies are required to avoid placing them in the same location or proximity. Although police cannot stop one specific type of vehicle, they may stop every vehicle or follow a pattern, such as stopping every five vehicles.

Law enforcement in North Carolina is permitted to conduct any type of DWI checkpoint or roadblock as long as it complies with state law and the U.S. Constitution. In addition, the North Carolina Supreme Court has held that police are justified to pursue and stop a vehicle that legally turns around to avoid a sobriety checkpoint.

What Happens at a DWI Checkpoint?

If you are proceeding through a sobriety checkpoint, make sure to slow down as you approach the roadblock. The officer may ask you whether you have been drinking, and you have the right to politely decline answering any questions that might incriminate yourself. You also have the right to decline a vehicle search if asked. Drive away only once you have been given permission to do so.

Although motor vehicle checkpoint stops are legal, they must be brief — unless an officer has developed reasonable suspicion that justifies detaining you. If an officer has reasonable suspicion to believe you are intoxicated when you are stopped at a checkpoint, they are permitted to detain you and ask you to take a BAC test. Otherwise, once the officer has completed the license and registration check, as well as the sobriety screening, you should be allowed to leave. Law enforcement is not permitted to detain you at a DWI checkpoint without reasonable suspicion for a lengthy amount of time or allow traffic to back up.

An officer may use non intrusive techniques at a DWI checkpoint to observe you for signs of drug or alcohol impairment. For instance, they can engage you in conversation to determine whether you have alcohol on your breath or a slurred speech pattern. They may also look at your eyes for indications of intoxication. However, police may not make you step out of your vehicle, ask you to take a field sobriety test, or require a breath test, unless they have reasonable suspicion that you were driving under the influence.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina DWI Attorney

If you were arrested at a DWI checkpoint for driving while intoxicated, it’s essential to have a skillful DWI attorney by your side to fight the charges against you. A knowledgeable attorney can create a solid defense strategy and work to secure the best possible outcome in your case. The Johnston County traffic ticket attorneys at Reece & Reece, Attorneys at Law provide reliable representation for North Carolina DWIs and a variety of traffic-related criminal offenses. Call (919) 300-1249 to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help.

Categories: DUI/DWI