You are driving down the road and all of a sudden, there is a backup of cars. It looks strange to you because it is late in the night and there should not be that much traffic. An accident, perhaps?
As you move further down the street, you see the flashing blue lights. It’s a police Checkpoint. You may even see a sign that says “DWI Checkpoint Ahead.” You see the officer stop every car or every third car and points his flashlight at the driver while speaking to him. You’re up next.
Here are some questions you might have:
What is the purpose of a checkpoint?
There are two types of checkpoints. One is a stationary license checkpoint and another is a DWI checkpoint. In a stationary license checkpoint, the police is enforcing the motor vehicle laws of North Carolina by checking the licenses and registrations of all persons stopped. A DWI checkpoint is set up to detect intoxicated drivers.
Why do they publicize when the police is going to have a DWI checkpoint?
This past week, Raleigh police planned to hold a multi-agency DWI checkpoint in Raleigh. While the checkpoint was ultimately cancelled, some may wonder why the police would even publicize the checkpoint.
In their announcements of the checkpoints, the police do not announce the exact location. That way, people cannot avoid the checkpoint. By announcing a checkpoint somewhere in the city, they hope to deter people from driving impaired.
How do I know if a checkpoint is illegal?
When you are in the checkpoint, you will not be able to tell whether it passes constitutional muster. You need the trained eye of an experienced DWI lawyer to point out the violations, after the fact. He or she may decide to challenge the checkpoint based on the facts of your case if you are ultimately arrested.
You can help by being observant while in the checkpoint. Here are some aspects of the checkpoint you can make a mental note of to tell your lawyer later:
- Are they stopping every car or are they using a pattern? What pattern? Every third car? Every fifth car?
- Is there a police car with flashing blue lights at the checkpoint?
- Are there drug dogs present at the checkpoint? When are the drug dogs being used?
This is not an exhaustive list. Try to remember as much as possible about the checkpoint.
Stationary license checkpoints must pass certain constitutional requirements. DWI checkpoint requirements are outlined in North Carolina General Statute § 20-16.3A.
Because a checkpoint is a vehicle stop that is being conducted without a warrant, the State (Prosecution) has the burden of proving that the checkpoint is constitutional.
A checkpoint cannot be set up for the purpose of searching for narcotics in a known “high crime” area. A DWI checkpoint must be specifically tailored to prevent intoxicated drivers and not aimed for some other purpose.
This is only a brief introduction into the world of police checkpoints. Each case is fact specific. Consult an experienced DWI and traffic lawyer to fight for your case.
Also, read our post entitled - DWI Checkpoints: What a Raleigh DWI Lawyer Wants You Know