For decades local police departments in North Carolina, as is true of nearly all states, conduct randomized checkpoints to be on the look out for those who are driving drunk. Over the next two weeks, expect check points in to check for DWI or drunk drivers in Cary, Apex, Raleigh and the rest of Wake County.
Part of the effort is educational: you’ve probably heard news reports on WRAL about the program. The idea is that if people know checkpoints will be established, they will be less likely to drink and drive or commit a DWI.
The other part is prevention and arrest. People will be stopped at the checkpoints, people will be questioned at the checkpoints and, if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is driving drunk or committing a DWI, a police officer or Wake County sheriff’s deputy will breathalyze and arrest the person.
You might be asking: are check points legal? The answer is “yes.” The Supreme Court decided in Michigan v. Sitz that a checkpoint is a seizure of the person, which is covered by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. However, the Supreme Court held that even though the checkpoint is a seizure – and therefore a potential violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights – the seizure is temporary and minor given the overall goal of reducing “carnage” on the roads. As a result, DWI checkpoints are constitutional under the U.S. and state constitutions.
However, that does not mean that all checkpoints are conducted in accordance with the constitution. A checkpoint must be conducted according to a plan or scheme, and may not be established randomly. The stop of the individual must be only long enough to check to make sure that the person hasn’t been drinking. An extension of the stop beyond a brief time is a violation of the constitution.
So, if you’ve been stopped at a Cary, Apex or Raleigh DWI checkpoint, there may be ways to invalidate the stop and protect you from a DWI conviction.