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DWI Checkpoints in North Carolina: Your Survival Guide

If you drive in North Carolina, watch out for DWI checkpoints. These checkpoints are wide nets that law enforcement throws to catch impaired drivers. If officers find you driving impaired at a checkpoint, you can face severe penalties, including arrest, jail time, fines, and loss of your driver’s license. In this blog post, we’ll discuss how best to handle DWI checkpoints in North Carolina.

Sobriety Checkpoints: Legal in North Carolina

Sobriety checkpoints are legal in North Carolina and most other states. Officers often set them up on weekends and holidays. Law enforcement officers can briefly detain and question you at a sobriety checkpoint. If they suspect you of driving while impaired, they may ask you to perform additional tests to determine if they have probable cause to arrest you for driving while impaired.

Because the 4th amendment of the US Constitution reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,” sobriety checkpoints face challenges in court.

In 1990, the US Supreme Court ruled that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional as long as officers reasonably conduct them. The court reasoned that sobriety checkpoints are a “minimal intrusion” on drivers and that the state’s interest in preventing drunk driving outweighs that intrusion.

However, by law, officers must also establish probable cause before detaining or questioning an individual. In the case of sobriety checkpoints, the Supreme Court states that law enforcement must follow national guidelines, with twelve states outlining additional protocols on top of the federal regulations.

The most crucial protocol in North Carolina requires law enforcement to publicize where and when checkpoints will take place ahead of time. If the law enforcement agency fails to do so, you may use their lack of notice as part of your defense if charged with DWI at a checkpoint.

What is a DWI Charge Exactly?

DWI is a charge for “Driving While Impaired” with any substance, whether prescription meds, alcohol, or street drugs.

You can face charges for DWI if police find you:

  • With a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08% or more, no matter what your age
  • Appreciably (i.e. noticeably) impaired even if they don’t have results of alcohol or drug in your system
  • With any amount of Schedule I controlled substances (G.S. 90-89) or metabolites in your blood or urine.

In other words, if an officer believes you are on an impairing substance they can test for, they can arrest you and test you!

What to Do If Stopped at DWI Checkpoints in North Carolina

If you see a sobriety checkpoint, turning around usually won’t help you and could make your situation worse. When officers set up a checkpoint, they always station “turnaround officers” to pull over any vehicles who turn around to avoid the checkpoint. This gives them suspicion to stop your vehicle.

An officer may ask you to blow into a roadside/portable device for testing alcohol. You do not need to submit to a test of your breath roadside, however an officer will use your refusalto determine whether they have probable cause to arrest you for suspicion of DWI. However, if you worry that you could fail a breathalyzer, let the officer know you want to call an attorney to witness the testing. 

What Happens if Arrested for DWI?

If officers arrest you for DWI, do not continue talking without an attorney present. Officers may use anything you say against you later in a court of law. You need a DWI attorney to avoid a conviction that will stay on your permanent record. After you are arrested for suspicion of DWI, the officer will take you downtown to ask you to submit to a test of your breath. 

It is your right to have a witness present at your breathalyzer testing or any other chemical testing they may do at the station. By law, your witness has 30 minutes to arrive before you need to take any testing. You should use this 30 minutes to try to contact an attorney, friend, or family member to come witness the test. 

After the breath test, law enforcement takes you before a magistrate who will typically temporarily suspend your driver’s license. You will also need to appear in court.

With an experienced DWI attorney, you can build a defense against your DWI charges. Going it alone can mean conviction, while a knowledgeable attorney will know how best to defend you against the severe penalties in North Carolina.

Consequences of a DWI Conviction

If a court of law convicts you of a first-time DWI, you will lose your right to drive for one year and pay a fine of $200-$500, as well as court costs and attorney fees. You will  also need to complete a DWI education program and may need to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle depending on your BAC.

Second-time offenders face harsher penalties, including a fine of $500-$1000, more jail time, and a longer license suspension. You lose your right to drive for four years after a second offense and permanently lose driving rights if you have three or more DWIs.

In addition to driver’s license suspensions, DWI penalties may include consequences including:

  • Thousands of dollars in court costs and fines
  • Possible or mandatory jail time
  • Probation
  • Alcohol abstinence through an alcohol monitoring device
  • Community service requirements
  • Enrollment in alcohol or substance abuse education courses
  • Higher car insurance premiums
  • Additional penalties from the Department of Transportation

The state of North Carolina’s penalties depend on many factors, including, but not limited to your:

  • BAC level at the time of the arrest
  • Number of prior offenses 
  • Driver’s license classification
  • Age
  • Aggravating and mitigating factors

An aggravated Level 1 DWI is extremely serious and occurs any time someone has three or more grossly aggravating factors, such as:

  • Prior convictions within 7 years
  • A child in the car under 18
  • A person with a disability in the car
  • Seriously injuring someone
  • Driving while your license is suspended for a DWI

The penalties for a first-time aggravated Level 1 DWI are up to $10,000 in fines, 12 to 36 months in jail, and monitored sobriety for four months after release.

We Can Help

At Scharff Law, our experienced DWI defense team can help you fight DWI charges at trial. We thoroughly investigate your case, including violations of your rights at unconstitutional checkpoints, and defend your rights at every turn. Ensure you receive the best outcome for your case! Contact us today for a free consultation to find out how we can help you!