Why are Police Officers Allowed to Conduct Checkpoint Searches?

Over this recent holiday weekend, the police had checkpoints in every North Carolina county, in order to head off potential drunk drivers or drivers under the influence. How much power do the police have in these checkpoints?

DWI checkpoints in North Carolina may seem like they infringe on your Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches seizures. However, the United States Supreme Court held in the 1990 case of Michgan Dept. of State Police vs. Sitz that checkpoints are in fact constitutional. The court found that the benefit of stopping drunk drivers was greater than the burden of temporarily stopping drivers who went through the checkpoint, giving the police wide latitude in these situations.

When the officer approaches your car, you should roll down the window to hand the officer your driver’s license and registration if requested. If the officer suspects that you have been drinking or that there is a motor vehicle violation, she may ask you to pull over for further investigation. You do not have to answer any questions she asks you, such as if you have been drinking or where you are coming from.  If the officer has reasonable suspicion that you have been drinking, she may ask you to perform roadside sobriety tests, such as the one-legged stand, the walk and turn, or the HGN test. You do not have to do these tests, but your refusal to do so can be used against you in court. But, without results from these tests, the State will have to overcome the burden that the officer had probable cause to arrest you.

Even without these tests, if the officer believes you are too impaired to drive, she may arrest you. She will then ask you to step into an onsite bus to submit to a breathalyzer test. If you refuse to take this test, you will lose your license for one year in North Carolina. However, you have the right to request that someone be present with you at the test to witness it. The officer will allow the person 30 minutes to arrive before giving the test. If the person does not arrive after 30 minutes, the officer will go on with the test.

If you have been arrested for driving while intoxicated due to a checkpoint stop, contact The Law Offices of Wiley Nickel to discuss how we can help with your case. The Law Offices of Wiley Nickel, PLLC is located in Cary, NC near Harrison Avenue and Weston Parkway. For a free consultation call attorney Wiley Nickel or attorney Kristi Haddock at 919-585-1486 or email at wiley@wileynickel.com or kristi@wileynickel.


Wiley Nickel

Wiley Nickel lives and works in Cary, North Carolina. In 1998, he graduated from Tulane University with a major in Political Science and a minor in History. After college Wiley went to work for Al Gore and travelled with the Vice President as part of his national advance staff. Following the Gore campaign he earned his law degree from the Pepperdine University School of Law in 2005. While in law school Wiley worked as a law clerk in the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office where he gained valuable criminal trial experience before taking and passing the California bar exam. His first job out of law school was for the Merced County District Attorney’s Office where he worked as a Deputy District Attorney with a focus on prosecuting DWI offenders. Wiley later joined the Law Offices of Joseph Uremovic where he focused on civil litigation and family law. When the opportunity came to join the Obama campaign in 2008 Wiley jumped at the chance. He spent three years travelling with President Obama as a member of his national advance team. In 2011 Wiley left his work for the White House to return to the practice of law. Wiley devotes the majority of his practice to the areas of criminal law, family law, traffic tickets and DMV issues. The Law Offices of Wiley Nickel was started with the goal of providing the best representation possible for all of his clients. Experienced, Compassionate, Aggressive Criminal Defense While defense attorney Wiley Nickel works as the primary attorney for all of his cases, he does have an associate attorney, a team of investigators, forensic consultants, and support staff to call on to help achieve the best possible result in every case. He limits his case load so that he can focus on providing the best possible legal defense to all of his clients. Every case is a top priority and the goal is to have your case dismissed with a focus on being able to expunge your charges at the end of the process. When he is not working, Wiley is an avid family man, distance runner and golfer. He loves North Carolina college sports and is hoping this is the year for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Wiley is licensed to practice law in North Carolina and California.