How a DUI Checkpoint Should Operate
A Mecklenburg County driver came across a sobriety checkpoint in early December last year. Law enforcement noticed the smell of alcohol, and the driver admitted to consuming five beers. The driver then performed poorly on a field sobriety test but refused a breath test. The arresting officer took the driver to a hospital and conducted a blood test without a warrant, noting that it would take up to five hours to obtain one. The state appeals court denied the defendant’s argument that the blood test should be thrown out because the officer did not have a warrant.
This and other court cases are shaping the way that DWI checkpoints across the state are conducted.
When Evidence Counts
While the court ruled against drunk drivers in the Mecklenburg case, supporting that law enforcement may act without a search warrant when time is of the essence, it did note that there should be video technology in place to prevent the need for a warrantless search.
Attorneys and rights’ advocates often argue that checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unnecessary searches. Further setting precedent, the state appeals court ruled in an Anson County decision that law enforcement who did not have written guidelines for the checkpoints may not be able to use evidence gathered from such a stop.
Not all states conduct sobriety checkpoints, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. A statute in North Carolina permits the practice. South Carolina law enforcement host checkpoints, though there is no law in place giving them the right to do so. In some places, such as Michigan and Minnesota, DUI checkpoints are viewed as illegal based on the state’s constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court has mandated that when states do allow checkpoints, the stops must obey the following:
- Law enforcement must announce the date and location of any potential roadblock.
- Law enforcement must have a valid reason for the checkpoint, such as an increased DUI rate in a certain area.
- Law enforcement must have a set plan for which vehicles will be stopped, such as every car or every other car. Any deviations must be noted and explained.
In North Carolina, there are exceptions to these rules. The state statute notes that checkpoints can be placed anywhere, and the location cannot be used as a grounds to dismiss or suppress evidence. Additionally, North Carolina law enforcement do not have to advertise the location of the checkpoint due to the state’s statute. Instead, just one police car at the checkpoint has to have flashing lights. Law enforcement do, however, have to have a programmatic reason for stopping a vehicle and should not pull vehicles over at random.
Anyone who has been charged with a DUI as a result of a checkpoint or otherwise should contact a defense attorney. At Nosal & Jeter, LLP we have years of experience defending DUI offenses in South Carolina.