Last time, we began discussing the legality of DWI checkpoints here in North Carolina. As we noted last time, DWI checkpoints are legal and used in North Carolina, but they must be used for legal purposes.
In establishing a DWI checkpoint, officers are not required to obtain a warrant, though it has been argued that officers are better protected under the law when they obtain a warrant. Officers are required, though, to establish checkpoints according to a written policy which limits which types of vehicles may be stopped. Some sort of guidelines for the pattern of vehicles to be stopped must be clearly laid out. When officers from different agencies jointly conduct a checkpoint, there can be issues regarding which policy controls the operation of the checkpoint.
Officers are not required to obtain prior authorization from a supervisor before conducting a checkpoint, unless it is required by the checkpoint policy or under a law enforcement agency’s general regulations or procedures. In addition, checkpoints must be random or established according to statistics. Agencies may not put checkpoints repeatedly in the same area.
In terms of the operation of sobriety checkpoints, officers are required to advise the public of DWI checkpoints by, at a minimum, having one law enforcement vehicle with a blue light in operation during the checkpoint’s operation. It isn’t clear under case law whether additional prior notice is required.
Several issues that are particularly important to keep in mind concerning the legality of DWI checkpoints are: the duration of the checkpoint; permissible actions to detect motor vehicle violations; the permissibility of looking for non-motor vehicle crimes; and deviation from the rules contained in a checkpoint policy.
In a future post, we’ll briefly look at these issues.