Are DWI checkpoints legal in the Tar Heel State?

On Behalf of | Sep 2, 2021 | Criminal Defense

In North Carolina, individuals who have blood alcohol concentrations over 0.08% may not legally operate motor vehicles. If you drive while impaired, you are at risk of a roadside stop involving a single officer. You may also drive into a sobriety checkpoint.

Sobriety checkpoints, where officers stop a random sample of vehicles on a stretch of roadway, are generally legal in the Tar Heel State. Still, if officers do not follow specific guidelines, a sobriety checkpoint may not pass legal muster.

Establishing the checkpoint

Law enforcement personnel must establish the time and location of the checkpoint both in advance and in writing. This means officers may not set up checkpoints on a whim. Consequently, if you are facing DWI charges from an arrest at a checkpoint, you may want to investigate whether officers planned it.

Identifying a random pattern

Stopping every vehicle that approaches a sobriety checkpoint would likely result in unreasonable traffic congestion. Therefore, officers usually pick which cars to stop. When doing so, they must have a strategy and cannot engage in profiling. That is, officers must stop a random sample, such as every fourth or sixth vehicle.

Respecting your rights

At sobriety checkpoints, all your fundamental rights remain intact. Unless you consent to a search of your vehicle, officers may only legally search it under the following circumstances:

  • Officers have probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime inside your vehicle.
  • Officers have a reasonable belief a search is necessary to protect their safety.
  • Officers have arrested you.

Because officers often have the upper hand when stopping motorists, it may be essential to invoke your legal rights. Ultimately, if a sobriety checkpoint leads to your arrest, investigating whether the checkpoint meets legal requirements may also be advisable.