Stopped At A Sobriety Checkpoint? Know What To Expect, P. 2 - Sparrow Law Firm

Every holiday the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, Wake County Sheriff’s office or the Raleigh Police Department — separately or in any combination — participates in an anti-drunk driving campaign. Those campaigns involve saturated street patrols and sobriety checkpoints. Of course, the police don’t need a special occasion to pull someone over for drunk driving; they need a reasonable suspicion, but they don’t restrict DWI enforcement to holiday weekends.

The same is true for checkpoints. Motorists may expect sobriety checkpoints during Booze It & Lose It campaigns, but they should also know that law enforcement agencies do not need an excuse to establish a checkpoint. Nor, as we said in our last post, do they need to notify the public in advance.

When we left off in our last post, we were discussing what the officer can and cannot do at a checkpoint.

During the stop, the officer is restricted to questions and actions that are “reasonably related” to the purpose of the checkpoint. For example, the law allows an officer to check license and registration, but the law is unclear on whether the officer can run a check on an apparently valid license. That means that an officer’s check for unpaid tickets or outstanding warrants may not be lawful.

Officers at a sobriety checkpoint cannot order a motorist out of his or her car without having a reasonable suspicion that the driver has been drinking. Officers are allowed to look for signs of alcohol or drug use by talking to the driver and looking at the driver’s general demeanor. However, the officer cannot conduct field sobriety tests or require an Alcosensor test without that reasonable suspicion.

We will finish this up in our next post.

Source: UNC Chapel Hill School of Government, “Administration of Justice Bulletin: Motor Vehicle Checkpoints,” Jeffrey B. Welty, September 2010, accessed at North Carolina Sheriff’s Association website Aug. 7, 2014