DWI checkpoint cases are a thorn in the side of many a Raleigh DWI lawyer. Some defenses are not available in checkpoint cases as in other normal cases. But checkpoint cases are also unique in that there are specific requirements that do not exist for regular DWI stops.
In a “regular” DWI, the officer needs either probable cause or reasonable suspicion to perform a DWI investigation. This might be the violation of a traffic law such as speeding or running a red light, or swerving in and out of lanes of traffic. If it is determined that there was no probable cause or reasonable suspicion to perform a DWI investigation, evidence can potentially be suppressed, often resulting in a dismissal of charges.
In a checkpoint case, probable cause and reasonable suspicion is not needed, but other things are. Even with a checkpoint, law enforcement cannot just stop whom they want. There are very specific rules and requirements that must be followed. If these rules are violated, then evidence may be suppressed. These rules are:
- Random – The checkpoint must be completely random. Officers cannot pick and choose which cars to pull over. Either every car must be checked, or the selection must be completely random, such as every 5th car.
- Announced – The checkpoint must be announced. This is done in two primary ways in North Carolina. First, a checkpoint plan is filed in advance and second, that the checkpoint has visible flashing blue lights.
- Specific – A checkpoint must have a specific purpose. Law enforcement can’t do random searches of vehicles or ask random questions. They have to be looking for specific violations that are outlined in the checkpoint plan. Checkpoints are most commonly set up for DWI, and registration and driver’s license checks.
In North Carolina, unlike with some other states, drivers have no right to avoid the checkpoint, meaning that if you do, the police can stop you and inquire as to why you avoided the checkpoint and proceed with any investigation necessary.
Once stopped at a checkpoint, a defendant has the same rights as in any other DWI stop. Therefore, a DWI lawyers general guidance would be that unless absolutely no alcohol or impairing substance has been consumed, that you should refrain from performing field sobriety tests or submitting to a breathalyzer test. If law enforcement wants to take a blood sample, they should obtain a warrant to do so.
The goal of any DWI stop is to limit the amount of information that an officer gathers as this can be used for prosecutorial purposes. So refusing to answer questions and not complying with field sobriety and breathalyzer requests is generally in a person’s best interest.
If you have been charged with a DWI as a result of a checkpoint stop, contact a Raleigh DWI law firm to review your case to ensure that law enforcement followed the required regulations and to verify that your rights were not violated.