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Looking at the legality of sobriety checkpoints in NC, P.1

Drunken driving is a serious problem when it comes to highway safety, and authorities here in North Carolina make use of a variety of strategies to get unsafe drivers off the road. Among these measures is the use of drunken driving checkpoints, or sobriety checkpoints.

Between December 11 and January 3, law enforcement conducted a total of 15 checkpoints, in addition to other enforcement efforts, during its “Booze It and Lose It” campaign. Across the state, the campaign resulted in a total of 3,074 charges, with many more traffic and criminal citations. Such results are typically seen as positive by law enforcement agencies, but what matters from a defense perspective is whether the evidence in any given case supports a DWI conviction. Determining this entails scrutinizing the work of police officers to ensure everything was done correctly. 

DWI checkpoints are not legal, or used, in every state, but they are legal and used here in North Carolina. It is important, of course, for criminal defense attorneys to look carefully at the use of DWI checkpoints to ensure that proper procedures are followed. The legality of sobriety checkpoints involves looking at a variety of issues, from establishing the checkpoint, conducting the checkpoint, to utilizing the findings of a checkpoint in court.

In North Carolina, DWI checkpoints may not be used for the purpose of general crime control, but they may be used to identify drunken drivers. Checkpoints may possibly also be used to enforce motor vehicle laws, depending on how you read established court cases. In practice, officers may use checkpoints to enforce a variety of criminal laws, including drug laws, since they are permitted to conduct searches under certain circumstances. That being said, officers must conduct the checkpoints in such a way that the primary aim is permitted by law.

In our next post, we’ll look at the legalities involved in establishing DWI checkpoints here in North Carolina.

Source: UNC School of Government, “Motor Vehicle Checkpoints,” Jeffrey B. Welty, Sept. 2010. 

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