It’s 10:30 on an August night and you’re driving down Tryon Street in Charlotte, headed home from having a couple of beers with friends. All of sudden you notice there is a line of cars ahead and at the far end of that line are State Troopers with their blue lights flashing. Should you turn around and take another route? Should you take your chances and go through the DUI checkpoint? Are these things even legal, anyway!? Read on to find out.
DUI Checkpoints Are Legal As Long as They Meet Certain Requirements
Most of the time, DUI checkpoints are legal as long as they follow specific rules. In North Carolina, law enforcement can set up checkpoints to stop vehicles without suspicious or illegal activity being observed. But these checkpoints must pass certain tests, both on the Federal and State level. A good DWI attorney will often consider these tests when creating a defense for cases involving DUI checkpoints.
Here’s what the Supreme Court has to say. To be Constitutionally valid the checkpoint must have a legitimate primary programmatic purpose, and be reasonable. For most of us, that sounds kind of vague, so thankfully, the Supreme Court has implemented a three-part test. The test is designed to weigh the interest of the public regarding checkpoints against the public’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy. These are the three things the Court takes into consideration:
- The gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure
- The degree that the seizure advances the public interest
- The degree of the interference with individual liberty
Confused? Maybe we can help. First, the Supreme Court regards being stopped by law enforcement as a seizure. They are “seizing” your time, car, and freedom for example, even if very briefly. All three of the above considerations can be summed up like this: a DUI checkpoint is legal if it does more good than harm to the general public. Does that help? We didn’t think so. Read on.
DUI Checkpoints Have Their Own Rules in North Carolina
In addition to the rules laid out at the Federal level, North Carolina has their own rules. Thankfully, these are a little easier to understand. Per N.C.G.S. 20-16.3A(a), law enforcement conducting a checkpoint must:
- Designate in advance of the format for stopping vehicles and what type of information and documentation will be requested from drivers
- Operate the checkpoint using a written checkpoint policy
- Have at least one law enforcement vehicle with blue lights on during the checkpoint
While the State laws are a little more clear than the Federal ones, it should be obvious that there is a lot of room for interpretation. In addition to this lack of clarity, North Carolina also adds to and modifies rules regarding checkpoints periodically through court cases.
For example, a North Carolina court conclude that is it reasonable for an officer to watch for vehicles that may be attempting to avoid a checkpoint. An officer may reasonably pursue and stop a vehicle which has turned away from a checkpoint to determine why the vehicle turned away. (State v. Foremen, 527 S.E.2d 921 (N.C. 2000). So much for turning around and finding another way home!
The Jason Reece Law Firm specializes in DWI and traffic ticket defense. We know how confusing and technical traffic laws can be and we know what to look for to defend our clients successfully. If you find yourself in trouble because of a DUI checkpoint, we would be glad to determine just how legal the stop really was.