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We are talking about sobriety checkpoints and what drivers should expect when they come to one. As we have said, checkpoints are not just for special occasions. The state, the county or Raleigh police can put up a checkpoint any day of the year. And if there is a checkpoint, a driver has an excellent chance of talking to an officer. (There are times when traffic is backed up that officers may wave drivers through, but there is no rule for wait times.)

At a sobriety checkpoint, a driver should not have to get out of his car if he has not been drinking. However, if the officer smells alcohol on the driver, notices that the driver has bloodshot eyes or slurred speech, testing is allowed. At that point, the checkpoint stop follows the same procedures and guidelines that a regular traffic stop does — and, importantly, that includes reasonable search and seizure, including search of a cellphone.

At that point, the checkpoint stop follows the same laws and procedures that a regular traffic stop does. A motorist does not lose any rights merely because he is stopped at a checkpoint instead of on the highway.

For the most part, officers at checkpoints are limited to looking for traffic violations. There can be no search of the glove compartment or the trunk, for example. A motorist would likely challenge a search of his cellphone, too. Evidence of another crime must be in plain view for an officer to act on it.

Avoiding a checkpoint does not necessarily mean that the driver has avoided a sobriety stop. The North Carolina Supreme Court established the rule in a case involving a driver who saw the checkpoint and turned (legally) to drive around it. The court agreed that officers have the right to stop motorists that turn away after entering the “checkpoint perimeter.”

If you have questions about your rights at a sobriety checkpoint, you may want to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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

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