Checkpoints are a type of traffic stop in North Carolina. Checkpoints must be compliant with the constitutional principles such as the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. Statutorily, checkpoints in North Carolina are governed by N.C.G.S. 20-16.3A. Like all of our blogs, this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a DWI lawyer.
Are sobriety checkpoints legal?
Checkpoints are generally permitted in North Carolina in appropriate circumstances. Checkpoints may be used to detect violations of motor vehicle offenses and to enforce the state’s traffic laws. Sobriety checkpoint are thus permissible. Checkpoints may not, however, be used for general crime control.
Length of stop
Checkpoints must be brief. Unless an officer develops reasonable suspicion justifying further detention, as soon as the officer completes the actions necessitated by the purpose of the checkpoint, such as completing the license and registration check or sobriety screening, the driver must be permitted to leave. If an officer develops reasonable suspicion of impaired driving or another illegal activity, the officer may lengthen the stop in a manner that is reasonable.
Permissible scope of a sobriety checkpoint
Law enforcement officers are permitted to use nonintrusive methods in order to detect impaired driving during a checkpoint. Such methods may include observing the driver’s eyes, observing the driver’s clothing, engaging in conversation to determine if the driver emits an odor of alcohol or speech patterns indicative of impairment.
Absent of reasonable suspicion, an officer MAY NOT order a driver out of his vehicle, order a driver to undergo field sobriety testing, or require the driver to submit to a portable breath test. Please note that even if reasonable suspicion of impaired driving is present, a person is never required to submit to field sobriety testing or a pre-arrest portable breath test. Read more here.
Do law enforcement officers have the discretion to choose whom to stop and/or what to require of each person?
No. Checkpoints must be conducted pursuant to a policy that provides guidelines for the pattern both for stopping vehicles and for requesting drivers that are stopped to provide license, registration, or insurance information. Typically, the pattern is to stop every vehicle or to stop vehicles in a certain numerical sequence (such as every fifth vehicle).
Notifying the public of a checkpoint
Officers must advise the public that an authorized checkpoint is being operated by having, at a minimum, one law enforcement vehicle with its blue lights in operation during the checkpoint.
Evading the checkpoint
An officer may stop a driver who legally avoids a checkpoint (for example, by making a lawful turn immediately before the checkpoint). Drivers who are stopped for evading a checkpoint will likely be unable to challenge the validity of the checkpoint.
Suppression of evidence
If a checkpoint violates the Fourth Amendment, a defendant may seek to suppress the evidence that was obtained.
If you have been charged with DWI/DUI or another crime in North Carolina or South Carolina and are in need of a criminal defense attorney, contact us to discuss your options.