What to Expect at a DWI Checkpoint
Also known as sobriety checkpoints, police officers will often set up a DWI checkpoint on weekends or holidays in areas surrounded by bars and restaurants. Some checkpoints are used to stop every car that comes through and others keep traffic moving by only stopping every few cars.
According to the Fourth Amendment, police need probable cause to stop a vehicle in most cases. However, the Supreme Court ruled that temporary DWI checkpoints are constitutional since the benefit of taking drunk drivers off the road outweighs the minor inconvenience of an innocent driver being stopped.
Since anyone can be stopped at a checkpoint, drunk or not, it’s important to know what happens at the average checkpoint, what your rights are, and how you should and should not behave during the stop. And remember, if you are accused of a crime and arrested, your first call should be to the North Carolina drunk driving lawyers at Mulligan Attorneys.
North Carolina DWI/DUI Checkpoint Laws
Sobriety checkpoint laws are different in every state. In North Carolina, DWI checkpoints are legal as long as they meet the following criteria:
- Either all cars must be checked or they must be selected according to a pattern (e.g. every fifth car, every third car, etc.).
- The purpose of the checkpoint must be limited to detecting impaired drivers. It cannot be used to check for other crimes.
- The checkpoint must be marked by flashing blue lights.
It should also be noted that, in some places, drivers are allowed to evade checkpoints as long as they do not make an illegal maneuver. This is not the case in North Carolina however, where the law lets police follow drivers who evade checkpoints and pull them over for “attempting to elude an officer who was in the lawful performance of his duties.”
What Happens at DWI/DUI Checkpoints
Drivers who are stopped at checkpoints in North Carolina are often briefly questioned while law enforcement attempts to determine if they are driving under the influence.
If you are asked to stop, the officer will first approach your car and ask you to roll your window down and, most likely, request that you turn your engine off. Next, just like in a traffic stop, they’ll ask for your license, registration, and proof of insurance. While they review your documentation, they may ask you questions about where you’re coming from, where you’re driving to, and whether you’ve been drinking.
Remember, you do not have to answer these questions. It is your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and, in most cases, it is strongly recommended that you do so until you can speak to a North Carolina DUI/DWI lawyer. Not only could you potentially say something incriminating but, if you have been drinking, you risk slurring your speech.
In addition to slurred speech, law enforcement is also checking to see if the driver:
- Has red and/or flushed skin
- Is having trouble paying attention
- Smells like alcohol (or if their breath does)
- Seems confused or disoriented
- Has bloodshot eyes
- Seems lethargic or excessively sleepy
Sobriety Testing at DWI/DUI Checkpoints
If the police have reason to believe that you’re drunk or otherwise impaired, they may ask you to step out of the vehicle so you can take a field sobriety test. Some of the tests you may be asked to do include:
- Standing on one leg – The officer will test your balance by asking you to lift one foot at least six inches off the ground while keeping your arms at your side.
- Walking and turning – This is another balance-oriented test where the driver must walk heel to toe for several paces forward before turning on one foot and walking back the same way.
- Nystagmus – This test is performed when the officer asks you to follow an object being moved around in front of you while using only your eyes.
An officer will consider a test “failed” if the driver:
- Doesn’t listen to the instructions before starting the test
- Cannot focus or stay balanced while listening to the instructions
- Can’t walk in or along a straight line
- Cannot stay balanced without wobbling, hopping, or using their arms
- Turns when they shouldn’t
- Stops walking when they shouldn’t
- Doesn’t follow all instructions exactly
While you may also be asked to touch your finger to your nose, count, or recite the alphabet as a means of determining your sobriety, it’s not likely to happen since these are not one of the sobriety tests endorsed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
What Are Your Rights at a DWI/DUI Checkpoint?
We’ve already discussed that you should exercise your right to remain silent at a DWI/DUI checkpoint, but you also have rights when it comes to field sobriety testing.
There is no law that requires drivers to submit to field sobriety tests. So, should you refuse field sobriety tests in North Carolina? The answer is yes, given that the results of these “tests” will only be more evidence to use against you in court. No matter what they say, law enforcement officers cannot force you to take a field sobriety test, nor can your refusal be used to punish you in any way. If you are asked to take one, your best course of action is to politely decline to do so.
If the officer has probable cause to suspect that you are driving drunk, they can (and will) ask you to take a blood alcohol content (BAC) test. North Carolina is an “implied consent state,” which means you have to take a BAC test when asked. If you refuse, you will automatically have your license revoked for at least one year and will have to figure out how to get around without a driver’s license.
Fortunately, even though you have to take a BAC test if asked, you do have certain additional rights covered by North Carolina’s BAC testing laws.
What to Do If You’re Stopped at a DWI/DUI Checkpoint
No matter how annoyed or inconvenienced you may be by having to stop at a sobriety checkpoint, it’s important to always interact with law enforcement officers in a polite and respectful way. This means saying please and thank you when applicable, keeping your hands where the officer can see them at all times, and refraining from using disrespectful language or gestures.
Even if you know exactly what to do at a sobriety checkpoint, you can still be accused of and arrested for driving while intoxicated. That’s why it’s extremely important that you contact a North Carolina DWI attorney as soon as possible. If you don’t, you could face jail time, hefty fines, and several other very serious consequences. Even the consequences of an underage DWI can be incredibly severe.
Mulligan Attorneys knows how to assess the situation and determine the true validity of any tests that may have been administered to you. We can also help you prepare for your DWI hearing and learn how to get limited driving privileges if you’re eligible. If you’ve been wrongfully accused of a DWI in North Carolina, give Mulligan Attorneys a call at 910-763-1100.