Eight people were charged last night with DWI at a checkpoint set up on South Boulevard. The checkpoint was conducted from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m. by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, although officers from the Matthews and UNCC police departments assisted. Including the 8 DWI charges, there were 73 total charges issued at the checkpoint. Some of the other charges included an open container charge, 4 drug charges, and 2 concealed weapon charges.
Although we hear about checkpoints with some frequency, let’s stop and consider how they are different from other traffic stops. First, the Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. It 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.
The US Supreme Court has held that a “traffic stop is a seizure "even though the purpose of the stop is limited and the resulting detention quite brief."” To make a traffic an officer must have "reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot."
However, 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 these checking station to be admissible, the checking stations must comply with the requirements set out in G.S. 20-16.3A, which states 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(1) Repealed by Session Laws 2006-253, s. 4, effective December 1, 2006, and applicable to offenses committed on or after that date.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.
In the 2014 case State v. White, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that it is a substantial violation of G.S. 20-16.3A if a checking station is conducted without a written policy, as required by subsection (a)(2a). The court held that if there is no written policy, then the evidence collected at that checking station may be suppressed. Important to the court’s holding was the fact that subsection (d) stated that the violation of that subsection “shall not be grounds for a motion to suppress.”
Provided that the checking station complies with the requirements in subsection (a), subsection (b) permits an officer with “reasonable suspicion that an occupant has violated” a traffic law or any other law to “detain the driver to further investigate in accordance with law.” Therefore, although the initial stop at the checking point is done without the typical reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop, an officer may not detain a person stopped without having reasonable suspicion. Subsection (b) goes on to state that if “the officer determines the driver had previously consumed alcohol or has an open container of alcoholic beverage in the vehicle” then the operator of the vehicle “may be requested to submit to an alcohol screening test under G.S. 20-16.3.” Just as with any other stop which involves a request to submit to a breath or blood test, the operator has given his implied consent to submit to such test by operating a vehicle on public roads. However, pursuant to G.S. 20-16.2, the operator may refuse, although he will face an automatic one-year license revocation as a result.
If you have been charged with DWI at a checkpoint stop, visit www.rflaw.net for legal help.