Holiday Season Brings More DWI Checkpoints


While the holidays bring joy, happiness, and celebrations, they also bring an increase in travel and alcohol/drug consumption. The increase in travel and celebrations creates the perfect storm for a greater number of people who are Driving While Impaired (DWI). To combat this storm, law enforcement increases its presence and enforcement efforts. Part of that presence and enforcement includes the annual Booze It & Lose It initiatives conducted through the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program. DWI Checkpoints are a main component of the holiday Booze It & Lose It campaign. This holiday campaign will continue through the New Year’s celebrations.

Are DWI Checkpoints Legal?

The 4th & 14th Amendment as well as Article I, §§ 19, 21, & 23 of the North Carolina Constitution, prohibit your seizure absent a “reasonable and articulable suspicion” that criminal conduct has occurred, is occurring, or is about to occur. However, in 1976, the US Supreme Court held that checkpoints to stop vehicle traffic were a permissible exception to these Constitutional prohibitions because of the lesser expectation of privacy in vehicle travel. In Michigan v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), the Supreme Court expressly permitted the use of checkpoints for the purpose of DWI enforcement. DWI checkpoints are legally permissible provided safeguards are in place to ensure that an individual driver’s expectation of privacy is not subjected to the arbitrary and unconstrained discretion of the officer participating in the DWI checkpoint.

Constitutional Framework For DWI Checkpoint Analysis.

Courts have devised a Constitutional two-part inquiry to determine whether the DWI checkpoint in question is proper. The checkpoint must first have an acceptable “primary programmatic purpose”. The US Supreme Court has recognized only four proper purposes for checkpoints: fixed immigration checkpoints; DWI checkpoints; drivers license and registration checkpoints; and checkpoints to gather information in the immediate area where a serious felony has been committed. A checkpoint cannot be used to investigate/detect ordinary criminal wrongdoing. If the checkpoint has a proper purpose, then it must be “reasonable”.

When determining whether the DWI checkpoint was “reasonable”, Courts are required to examine multiple factors that address whether the driver has been subjected to the arbitrary and unconstrained discretion of the officer in the field. The factors include: whether the checkpoint was set up on a whim or spontaneously; the reason for the location, date, day and time span; whether there was a predetermined starting/ending time; whether there were written guidelines for the officers in the field; whether officers in the field were governed by a supervisor; whether permission was given to conduct the checkpoint; whether there was a set pattern for stopping vehicles; whether signs gave approaching drivers notice of a checkpoint; and whether officers in the field compiled any written plan for the checkpoint and with their agency’s written policies and directives. In addition to these factors, Court must determine whether the State complied with G.S. § 20-16.3A, entitled Checking stations and roadblocks.

Can I Legally Turn Away From A DWI Checkpoint?

Courts have stated that mere avoidance of a DWI checking station, without more, does not provide a legal basis to stop the driver. However, a turn away from a checkpoint in conjunction with other circumstances, such as the time, place and manner in which it is made, may constitute a legal basis for the stop. These circumstances have generated the inquiry as to whether the driver was within the “perimeters “ of the checkpoint at the time of the turn. This style of reasoning creates a gray area that requires litigation of this issue on a case-by-case basis instead of a “bright line “rule. You are best served to simply approach to checkpoint in the fashion directed by traffic control devices and officers in the area.

Tips To Stay Safe On The Road During This Holiday Season.

First, if you drink anything do not drive. Plan your celebration before it begins and secure a safe ride to and from your destination. Designate a sober driver in advance or utilize public or private for-hire transportation to get to and from your destination. If someone you know has been drinking, do not let that person drive, take their keys and arrange a safe way home for them. They will thank you the next day.

It’s no secret that North Carolina is one of the toughest states in the country on DWI offenders. DWI penalties include monetary fines from $200 to $10,000, jail time from 24 hours to 36 months, loss of drivers license for one year to a permanent revocation of your drivers license, and an increase in your insurance premium of over 400%. If you are stopped at a DWI checkpoint and arrested for DWI, your successful defense depends on hiring an experienced DWI attorney to represent you. You need an attorney who is familiar with the Constitutional requirements and policies and directives of the law enforcement agencies, and who has the skills and resources to challenge and defeat the DWI checkpoint.

The Robinson Law Firm has over 30 years experience defending DWI cases and challenging checkpoints. Founder Les Robinson authored The Ultimate DWI Checklist, a regularly updated guidebook utilized by North Carolina attorneys since 1995. The Robinson Law Firm has an extensive track record of success challenging DWI checkpoints cases.

If you were charged with DWI after being stopped at a DWI checkpoint, contact The Robinson Law Firm immediately to get the help you need and deserve to challenge and defeat the DWI checkpoint.

Categories: Blog, DWI, Law Enforcement