What do I have to do at a checkpoint ?
Checkpoints are strange, and complicated, legal exceptions to the Constitutional right to be free of unwarranted searches and seizures. Checkpoints allow officers to stop you, i.e. seizure, without any suspicion that you are doing something wrong.
This would typically be unconstitutional, but the US Supreme Court [see City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000)], and the State of North Carolina [see State v. Veazy, 201 N.C.App. 398 (2009)] have carved out a narrow exception to that rule for checkpoints.
However, in order to be valid, checkpoints must have a valid primary programmatic purpose as explained by the US Supreme Court in City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000), and if the purpose is valid, the checkpoint must be reasonable under the balancing test articulated by the US Supreme Court Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47 (1979).
This analysis is extremely complicated, and it is not unusual for courts to find that checkpoints do not meet the demanding criteria set out by the US Supreme Court.
So what do you have to do if you are stopped at a checkpoint? Do you have to blow? Do you have to do field sobriety tests? Do you have to allow a search of your car?
In North Carolina
- An officer cannot automatically arrest you just because you refuse to blow in a portable breath test device (PBT), or because you refuse to do field sobriety tests, or because you refuse to answer questions, or because you refuse to allow a search at a checkpoint.
- A magistrate cannot refuse to give you a bond just because you refuse to do those things.
- DMV cannot revoke your driver’s license if you refuse to blow in a PBT or take field sobriety tests.
- You are not automatically guilty of DWI if you refuse to blow in a PBT and/or refuse to do field sobriety tests at the scene.
Most checkpoints have a stated “primary programmatic purpose” of checking for valid driver’s licenses, registrations and insurance status.
Therefore, when you pull up to a checkpoint, you should have ready and immediately hand to the officer your driver’s license, insurance card and registration.
If you have a concealed carry permit, you should also immediately advise the officer of that and whether or not you have a weapon in the vehicle.
After that, remember:
- You do NOT have to blow into a PBT;
- You do NOT have to answer any questions about drinking, where you’ve been, where you are going, etc;
- You do NOT have to allow any search of your vehicle, possessions or person; and
- You do NOT have to perform any field sobriety tests.