What to Expect at a DWI Checkpoint in North Carolina

Police night Time Checkpoint. Police Cruiser Lights Closeup - Dwi checkpoints concept

Being pulled over at a DWI checkpoint can be a stressful and overwhelming experience, especially if you were driving under the influence. If you’re stopped at a roadblock, it’s important to know what to expect — and understand what your rights are. Importantly, while DWI checkpoints are considered Constitutional in North Carolina, they must still comply with certain criteria to ensure they do not violate an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights.

What is a DWI Checkpoint?

DWI checkpoints are a tool used by law enforcement agencies to combat impaired driving. Also referred to as “sobriety checkpoints,” these checkpoints are legal under North Carolina law — but they must comply with specific requirements. They can be set up anywhere in the state, as long as there is a reason for their placement, the checks are performed at random, and a predetermined location is announced in advance.

A checkpoint may be set up due to an increase in alcohol-related accidents or fatalities in a certain area. However, the roadblock must be visible to inform drivers of what is coming up ahead. For instance, notice must be given to drivers that there is a checkpoint on the road, whether it be flashing lights, signs, or police cars parked on the side of the road with their lights on.

What Should You Do if You Are Approaching a DWI Checkpoint?

If you are approaching a DWI checkpoint, you should not attempt to turn around in order to avoid it. Doing so makes you look suspicious, even if you are not under the influence of alcohol. It also gives an officer the right to follow you, pull you over, and question why you are attempting to avoid the checkpoint.

Significantly, you should keep the following in mind if you are approaching a DWI checkpoint:

  • Drive slowly — Slowing down as you approach the roadblock demonstrates that you are in control of your vehicle and respect the safety of the officers.
  • Do not answer incriminating questions — If the police officer asks if you have been drinking, you do not have to answer. But while it is within your rights to politely decline to answer any incriminating questions, you are still required to provide law enforcement with your drivers’ license and vehicle registration upon request.
  • Decline a search of your vehicle — In the event the police ask to search your vehicle, you have the right to decline.
  • Drive away once you have permission — You should only drive away from the checkpoint once the officer has given you permission to do so. If you aren’t certain when you can leave, confirm with the officer whether you are free to go.

Although a police officer can engage you in conversation at a DWI checkpoint to determine whether you show signs of intoxication, they may not use intrusive techniques. They also may not make you step out of the vehicle, take a field sobriety test, or administer a breath test unless they have reasonable suspicion that you were operating a vehicle while impaired. Apart from making a DWI arrest, a police officer can also issue a citation for other violations and offenses that they have observed based on the checkpoint procedure. Regardless of what happens at the DWI checkpoint, it’s essential to always be respectful and courteous to the officer.

What Happens at a DWI Checkpoint if You Show Signs of Impairment?

For most people who pass through a DWI checkpoint, the extent of their interaction with the police is showing their driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. However, while they are speaking with you, the officer will observe your behavior and look for signs of intoxication, including slurred speech or the smell of alcohol on your breath. In these instances, law enforcement will ask a driver to step out of the vehicle to allow them to investigate further.

Based upon what the officer observes during their interaction with you, they may ask you to take a field sobriety test. Notably, there are three types of field sobriety tests commonly used in North Carolina, including the following:

  • The walk and turn test
  • The one leg stand test
  • The horizontal nystagmus test

An officer will consider a field sobriety test to be “failed” if the driver doesn’t listen to their instructions, cannot focus or stay balanced, or doesn’t follow their directions exactly. This can give an officer the probable cause that is legally required to arrest you. Since prosecuting a DWI on a failed field sobriety test alone would be challenging, they may also ask to administer a preliminary breath test. You do not have to submit to a portable breath test. However, if you are arrested and later asked to submit to a more formal blood or breath test, refusing that later test will result in a one year license suspension by DMV.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina DWI Attorney

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

Categories: DUI/DWI