The Charlotte Observer reports that officers of the Wildlife Resources Commission and the State Highway Patrol announced the “On the Road, On the Water, Don’t Drink and Drive Campaign” today. As the weather warms, not only are more boaters expected, but more motorists are expected as well. According to the commander of the State Highway Patrol, the campaign aims to “ensure safe travel on our roadways by removing those who choose to drive while impaired.” The articles states that in 2014, there were 264 fatal collisions investigated by the State Highway Patrol and 9,169 injury wrecks. Of those, 68 of the fatal collisions and 833 of the injury wrecks were due to impaired driving. In connection with the campaign, the officers will be conducting checkpoints during the weekends of Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.
Typically, in a traffic stop a police officer is required to have reasonable suspicion to make that stop. The Fourth Amendment provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and states that
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, a “traffic stop is a seizure even though the purpose of the stop is limited and the resulting detention quite brief.” Therefore, a police officer must have “reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot” to make a traffic stop.
However, checkpoint stops are different from other traffic stops. The North Carolina general statutes give law enforcement officers the ability to “conduct checking stations to determine compliance with the provisions” of the Motor Vehicles Chapter of the statutes. For evidence collected at a checkpoint to be admissible, the checkpoint must comply with certain requirements. G.S. 20-16.3A provides that
(a) A law-enforcement agency may conduct checking stations to determine compliance with the provisions of this Chapter. If the agency is conducting a checking station for the purposes of determining compliance with this Chapter, it must:
(1) Repealed by Session Laws 2006-253, s. 4, effective December 1, 2006, and applicable to offenses committed on or after that date.
(2) Designate in advance the pattern both for stopping vehicles and for requesting drivers that are stopped to produce drivers license, registration, or insurance information.
(2a) Operate under a written policy that provides guidelines for the pattern, which need not be in writing. The policy may be either the agency’s own policy, or if the agency does not have a written policy, it may be the policy of another law enforcement agency, and may include contingency provisions for altering either pattern if actual traffic conditions are different from those anticipated, but no individual officer may be given discretion as to which vehicle is stopped or, of the vehicles stopped, which driver is requested to produce drivers license, registration, or insurance information. If officers of a law enforcement agency are operating under another agency’s policy, it must be stated in writing.
(3) Advise the public that an authorized checking station is being operated by having, at a minimum, one law enforcement vehicle with its blue light in operation during the conducting of the checking station.
(a1) A pattern designated by a law enforcement agency pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall not be based on a particular vehicle type, except that the pattern may designate any type of commercial motor vehicle as defined in G.S. 20-4.01(3d). The provisions of this subsection shall apply to this Chapter only and are not to be construed to restrict any other type of checkpoint or roadblock which is lawful and meets the requirements of subsection (c) of this section.
(b) An officer who determines there is a reasonable suspicion that an occupant has violated a provision of this Chapter, or any other provision of law, may detain the driver to further investigate in accordance with law. The operator of any vehicle stopped at a checking station established under this subsection may be requested to submit to an alcohol screening test under G.S. 20-16.3 if during the course of the stop the officer determines the driver had previously consumed alcohol or has an open container of alcoholic beverage in the vehicle. The officer so requesting shall consider the results of any alcohol screening test or the driver’s refusal in determining if there is reasonable suspicion to investigate further.
(c) Law enforcement agencies may conduct any type of checking station or roadblock as long as it is established and operated in accordance with the provisions of the United States Constitution and the Constitution of North Carolina.
(d) The placement of checkpoints should be random or statistically indicated, and agencies shall avoid placing checkpoints repeatedly in the same location or proximity. This subsection shall not be grounds for a motion to suppress or a defense to any offense arising out of the operation of a checking station.
An officer does not have to have reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle at a checkpoint. However, the officer must have reasonable suspicion to further detain the driver after satisfying the primary purpose of the checkpoint (typically reviewing the driver’s valid license and registration). The North Carolina Court of Appeals has explained that
[o]nce the original purpose of the stop has been addressed, in order to justify further delay, there must be grounds which provide the detaining officer with additional reasonable and articulable suspicion or the encounter must have become consensual. Where no grounds for a reasonable and articulable suspicion exist and where the encounter has not become consensual, a detainee’s extended seizure is unconstitutional.
State v. Jackson (2009)
An officer who has reasonable suspicion is permitted to “detain the driver to further investigate” under subsection (b) of the statute. The United States Supreme Court has also stated that “police officers [may] act appropriately upon information that they properly learn during a checkpoint stop justified by a lawful primary purpose, even where such action may result in the arrest of a motorist for an offense unrelated to that purpose.” (City of Indianapolis v. Edmond 2000)
The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that a police officer possessed reasonable suspicion to further detain the driver when he saw an aluminum can in between the driver and passenger and determined that it was an alcoholic beverage after questioning the contents of the can. (State v. Jarrett 2009) Other facts that provide reasonable suspicion to further detain a driver are an odor of alcohol or an admission of drinking alcohol earlier in the evening (State v. Townsend 2014), as well as an odor of marijuana coming from a vehicle. (State v. Smith 2013)
If you have been arrested for DWI following a checkpoint stop, visit www.rflaw.net for legal help.