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Why are Police Officers Allowed to Conduct Checkpoint Searches?

Over this recent holiday weekend, the police had checkpoints in every North Carolina county, in order to head off potential drunk drivers or drivers under the influence. How much power do the police have in these checkpoints?

DWI checkpoints in North Carolina may seem like they infringe on your Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches seizures. However, the United States Supreme Court held in the 1990 case of Michgan Dept. of State Police vs. Sitz that checkpoints are in fact constitutional. The court found that the benefit of stopping drunk drivers was greater than the burden of temporarily stopping drivers who went through the checkpoint, giving the police wide latitude in these situations.

When the officer approaches your car, you should roll down the window to hand the officer your driver’s license and registration if requested. If the officer suspects that you have been drinking or that there is a motor vehicle violation, she may ask you to pull over for further investigation. You do not have to answer any questions she asks you, such as if you have been drinking or where you are coming from.  If the officer has reasonable suspicion that you have been drinking, she may ask you to perform roadside sobriety tests, such as the one-legged stand, the walk and turn, or the HGN test. You do not have to do these tests, but your refusal to do so can be used against you in court. But, without results from these tests, the State will have to overcome the burden that the officer had probable cause to arrest you.

Even without these tests, if the officer believes you are too impaired to drive, she may arrest you. She will then ask you to step into an onsite bus to submit to a breathalyzer test. If you refuse to take this test, you will lose your license for one year in North Carolina. However, you have the right to request that someone be present with you at the test to witness it. The officer will allow the person 30 minutes to arrive before giving the test. If the person does not arrive after 30 minutes, the officer will go on with the test.

If you have been arrested for driving while intoxicated due to a checkpoint stop, contact The Law Offices of Wiley Nickel to discuss how we can help with your case. The Law Offices of Wiley Nickel, PLLC is located in Cary, NC near Harrison Avenue and Weston Parkway. For a free consultation call attorney Wiley Nickel or attorney Kristi Haddock at 919-585-1486 or email at wiley@wileynickel.com or kristi@wileynickel.

Wiley Nickel