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Watch out for DUI checkpoints this holiday season

Holidays often mean an uptick in traffic accidents involving impaired drivers. Because of this, law enforcement may use numerous tactics to deter partiers from getting behind the wheel at the end of the night. Among these tactics is the sobriety checkpoint. A common question about sobriety checkpoints is whether they are legal.

In fact, they may seem to violate your right to be safe from unwarranted search and seizure or from a traffic stop initiated without probable cause. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that because these checkpoints provide a benefit that outweighs the risk that police will violate your rights, they are an acceptable form of drunk driving prevention. Sobriety checkpoints may be legal in North Carolina, but that does not mean your rights are safe when you approach one.

What to expect

At each checkpoint, police must follow specific rules to ensure they do not discriminate or overstep their boundaries, for example:

  • Law enforcement supervisors make the decisions about how field officers will operate the checkpoints.
  • Checkpoint locations must be reasonable and often correspond with areas where police have investigated numerous DUI incidents.
  • Police must take steps to ensure your safety as you approach the checkpoint area.
  • Law enforcement must use signage and other methods of alerting you that you are approaching a sobriety roadblock.
  • Police must stop vehicles using a mathematical selection process, such as every sixth vehicle.
  • When police stop your vehicle, the delay should last about as long as a traffic light.

If police determine you have been drinking, they will indicate where you should pull over so they can conduct field sobriety tests and breath tests to check your blood alcohol content. You may refuse to submit to either of these, but police will likely place you under arrest anyway. Once you are in custody, you may not refuse a breath test at the police station.

Even if you fail a sobriety test at a sobriety checkpoint and blow a .08 BAC, this does not mean you have no reason to build a strong defense against the charges of DUI. If police violated your rights at any time before or during your arrest, the case against you may be weak at best. You may benefit from allowing a skilled defense attorney to examine the circumstances and offer advice about your options.

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