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Dysart Willis

What you should know about DWI checkpoints

Most DWI stops in North Carolina fall into one of two categories: a stop based on probable cause or as part of a DWI checkpoint.

Generally, police officers need to have cause to believe you are breaking the law in some way before they can stop you. However, the law also allows law enforcement to set up checkpoints to catch intoxicated drivers.

Where to expect a checkpoint

Typically, police set up checkpoints at times and places where drunk drivers are likely to pass. This usually means during late-night hours on roads not far from bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

Checkpoints must serve the goal of reducing drunk driving

Police may generally not set up a checkpoint as a way to have an excuse to stop and search vehicles for reasons that do not relate to drunk driving. Thus, a checkpoint set up in a way that does not make sense in the goal to get drunk drivers off the road is cause for looking further into whether the checkpoint was constitutionally valid.

What happens at a checkpoint

The law requires drivers to stop at checkpoints; failing to do so can supply cause for separate charges, regardless of whether the driver was sober. You must also show your identification if police officers request it.

If police officers at the stop believe you may be impaired, they will likely ask you to get out of the car and perform tests. This often means a field sobriety test and/or a breath test. You do not have to consent to these tests, but prosecutors will be able to cite your refusal as evidence against you later on. You should be aware that both of these tests can provide inaccurate results, so do not assume that failing either of them necessarily means a conviction.

Avoiding a checkpoint can land you in trouble

Turning around when you see a checkpoint ahead may not help you avoid a stop. Police will often follow and stop you anyway. Is this a legal stop? Not always - the police must have probable cause for believing you are trying specifically to avoid a checkpoint. Some factors that might support their argument include the driver making a U-turn or other illegal maneuver to turn around, or speeding away from the checkpoint.