DWI and the First Amendment

You wouldn’t think that the First Amendment would ever be implicated in a North Carolina DWI case. However, the NC Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in State v. Yencer involving the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in a DWI case.

The Establishment Clause provides that Congress shall not establish a state religion. Through the Fourteenth Amendment, the Establishment Clause applies to the various states, including North Carolina, which are also generally prevented from interfering with religious organizations, or allowing religious organizations the trappings of state power.

The Defendant in State v. Yencer was arrested for Driving While Impaired (NCGS 20-138.1) and careless and reckless driving. She pled guilty to the charge in 2008, but no before filing a brief contending that since she was arrested by a campus police officer of Davidson College and because Davidson College is a religious school, the arrest was illegal because the underlying North Carolina Campus Police Act (NCGS 74G) unconstitutionally granted the authority to a religious organization to arrest citizens.

While the Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with the Defendant, the North Carolina Supreme Court rejected these arguments and upheld the conviction. The Supreme Court held that the “Campus Police Act’s provision of secular, neutral, and nonideological police protection for the benefit of the students, faculty, and staff of Davidson College, as applied to defendant?s conviction for driving while impaired, does not offend the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.