State v. Knolls: Were you unlawfully detained following a DWI arrest?

If you get stopped for a Driving While Impaired charge in Wake County (or any other part of North Carolina) and are arrested for the DWI, at some point in the process you will encounter a Magistrate.

A Magistrate is a judicial official, not a judge, who is part of the District Court of North Carolina. The Magistrate’s job, among other things, is to inform the driver or defendant of the charges against him, inform the driver of his right to communicate with an attorney and friends, and inform the driver of the general circumstances under which he may secure his release.

The Magistrate may order the driver confined or otherwise secured if the driver is so unruly as to disrupt and impede the proceedings, or becomes unconscious, or is grossly intoxicated, or is otherwise unable to understand the procedural rights afforded by the initial appearance before the magistrate.

The Magistrate must also determine the conditions for pretrial release of the driver under NCGS 15A-533(b). The Magistrate has one of four possible choices:

  1. Release the defendant on his own written promise to appear,
  2. Release the defendant upon his execution of an unsecured appearance bond,
  3. Place the defendant in the custody of a designated person or organization,
  4. Require the execution of an appearance bond in a specified amount secured by a cash deposit of the full amount of the bond, by a mortgage, or by at least one solvent surety.

In addition, the Magistrate can take into account whether the driver/defendant is intoxicated to such a degree that he would be endangered by release without supervision.

In State v. Knoll, 322 N.C. 535 (1988), the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the Magistrate cannot simply detain a driver/defendant in custody, provided the driver, if seriously impaired, has a friend or family member who is willing to take custody of him and if failing to release the driver would prejudice his ability to defend himself at a future trial.

In the three cases that were joined under the Knoll decision, the drivers/defendants in each of the cases had family members or friends who had come to jail to pick up their loved ones. The magistrates in each of the three cases had told the family members that the drivers would not be released for many more hours. As a result, the drivers’ defenses were prejudiced because the family members lacked any opportunity to observe the drivers to make an independent judgment about whether they were impaired.

Here’s how this ruling can affect your case: If you hare held in custody by the Magistrate on the grounds that you are too intoxicated or too impaired to be released, and if that detention prevents a family member or friend from observing you and forming an independent opinion about your impairment, your detention may have prejudiced you to the extent that your entire DWI case may be throw out.

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.