Motorist Rights at Dwi Checkpoints

It's Thursday night at 10 p.m., and you're ready to go home. A few hours earlier, your co-workers invited to you to a happy hour to celebrate a long holiday weekend. Two drinks turned into dinner on the patio, which led to a few more drinks later, and now it's bedtime. You think you're good to drive, but on the highway home, you see traffic ahead of you backed up for a half a mile. Why? Ahead of the jam is a site that makes your heart sink - a DWI checkpoint. Are you sure you'll pass the test?

There's no turning around now - you will have to talk to the police. These roadblocks are legal in the state of North Carolina, so it's important to understand your rights before you see the line of brake lights. Even if you think you'll be asked to take a breathalyzer, you still have rights when stopped at a DWI checkpoint.

Under the Fourth Amendment, drivers are protected from unreasonable search and seizure. However, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the search conducted at a roadblock is "minimally invasive" and does not impede on the Fourth Amendment, allowing law enforcement to pursue their interest in preventing drunk driving. What does this mean for your rights?

Do I have to tell the police I've been drinking?

No. Generally, all that is required of drivers at a traffic stop is to allow police to check for a driver's license and insurance registration. Police may ask where you've been, where you're going or what you've been up to that night, but you may politely decline to answer these questions.

Can I refuse to take a breathalyzer test?

If the police do suspect that you have been drinking, they will ask you to submit a breathalyzer test. Refusing to submit to a test may result in suspension of driving privileges even if you are not convicted of DWI. You have a right to an attorney or witness while police administer the test, but they are not required to wait more than 15 to 30 minutes for this person.

What if I'm arrested for DWI?

If you are arrested for DWI, you have a right to remain silent. Police should inform you of this right. Additionally, you have the right to consult with an attorney before admitting to any charges.

Most first-time DWI offenders do not have a reckless or malicious intent when they drive after having one too many drinks. Rather, they are regular people who made a mistake. Although checkpoints balance tediously within the Fourth Amendment, drivers charged with DWI have the chance in court to balance their rights with society's need for retribution.

For more information on dealing with the potential consequences of a DWI charge, consult a local attorney.