For many people in North Carolina, weekends are enjoyed by taking an afternoon drive, attending outdoor concerts and experiencing the exciting night life in the streets of Uptown. As you go about your night, there may be a chance that it all comes to a halt. Flashing lights and an unexpected trip to the police station will have a negative impact on the weekend as well as your future. Legal battles concerning arrests made at DWI checkpoints are fought daily across most states, which brings up several important questions.

What exactly is a DWI checkpoint?

DWI checkpoints are police traffic stops set up in hidden areas, usually near restaurants and bars. By the time a driver notices the stop, it’s too late. Though controversial, these stops are temporary and random. Late at night, early in the morning, weekends and holidays are likely times for checkpoints. Information about the location of local traffic stops can occasionally be found online. Regardless, the element of surprise is not dismissed.

DWI checkpoints share a common purpose: Keep the roads safer by detecting intoxicated drivers. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 out of 10 DWI-related deaths are prevented due to sobriety checkpoints.

DWI checkpoints are legal in North Carolina

According to N.C. Gen. Stat. §20-16.3A, DWI/sobriety checkpoints are legal, however, the Constitution requires a probable cause for a traffic stop. Lines get blurred when it comes to drunk driving vs another offense, as the U.S. Supreme Court makes exceptions due to the dangers of the matter. Depending on many factors, charges could be challenged in court.

Do police follow any guidelines when making the stops?

Police do have guidelines to follow when stopping cars. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures, but does not prohibit police use of sobriety checkpoints. To legally pull over drivers and/or make arrests at these checkpoints, law enforcement must publicly announce the checkpoint. This could be in a campaign, posted on a sign or printed in the newspaper.

What happens if you get pulled over at a DWI checkpoint?

DWI checkpoints catch more than just impaired drivers. Despite the main goal, these checkpoints can lead to arrests for different offenses such as speeding or illegal possession. Standard protocol goes as such: A driver’s license is requested and personal identification is run through the National Crime Index database (NCIC) to check for any:

  • Outstanding warrants
  • Invalid licenses
  • Identity checks (to catch vehicle inspection and registration violations)

Depending on how the inspection process pans out, individuals could have their vehicles searched or a sobriety test may take place.

Can DWI checkpoints be challenged?

DWI checkpoints are constitutional when they serve the best interest of the public. In short, the detection of drunk driving trumps all else. The constitutionality of a checkpoint stop can be challenged when the reasoning for the stop is unrelated to impaired driving. A criminal defense attorney who specializes in the laws, rules and procedures of DWI checkpoints can fight charge(s) made.