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Motor Vehicle Checkpoints

September 7th, 2010
By Jeff Welty

I’ve just finished a paper about motor vehicle checkpoints. It’s available here as a free download. It’s meant as a resource for judges, lawyers, and law enforcement officers, and it includes sections on establishing, operating, and litigating checkpoints. I hope it’s useful, and I’ll be interested in your feedback about it, which you can provide by emailing me or by posting a comment.

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9 Responses to “Motor Vehicle Checkpoints”

  1. Mendy says:

    This is really well done. I’m surprised that it does not violate the 4th amendment. The law looks at autos as objects, but there really are people driving these objects and it may violate their rights.
    At least the police dept should take it seriously before setting up one and make people go crazy.

  2. James R. McMinn says:

    You’re correct that checkpoints are controversial. I would like to point out one thing. Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000), places the burden of proving the “programmatic purpose” of any checkpoint squarely on the State during the defense’s motion to suppress. The State must provide competent evidence from the “programmatic level” of the agency that conducted the checkpoint and the court must make findings of fact. (“Finally, we caution that the purpose inquiry in this context is to be conducted ONLY AT THE PROGRAMMATIC LEVEL AND IS NOT AN INVITATION TO PROBE THE MINDS OF THE INDIVIDUAL OFFICERS ACTING AT THE SCENE.” Edmond at 48) In other words, if the only person who testifies at the suppression hearing is one of the field officers who participated in the checkpoint, this evidence alone is not competent to support findings of fact regarding the agency’s policy reasons for conducting the checkpoint. Under these circumstaces, a motion to suppress should be granted.

    State v. Rose, 170 N.C. App. 284 (2005) acknowledged this. (“A trial court may not simply accept the State’s invocation of a proper purpose, but instead must carry out a close review of the scheme at issue . . . . In this case, the trial court simply accepted, without comment, the field officers’ label of the checkpoint as a license and registration checkpoint. THERE IS NO FINDING AS TO THE PROGRAMMATIC PURPOSE — AS OPPOSED TO THE FIELD OFFICERS’ PURPOSE — for the checkpoint scheme at issue. Rose at 289.)

    The holdings in Burroughs, Veazey, Gabriel, and Jarrett have all ignored this rule set forth in Indianapolis v. Edmond.

    Currently in Forsyth County, law enforcement agencies are setting up checkpoints every day, and most of the time it is a field officer who makes the decision to put up a checkpoint. Alot of the time the field officer will contact his/her immediate supervisor to inform them that a checkpoint is being conducted, but noone at the “programmatic level” of the agency is even aware that this has occurred. Trial courts are routinely relying on the opinion of the field officer during motions to suppress, whether or not the statutorily mandated written guidelines are in evidence.

    James R. McMinn
    Asst. Public Defender
    21st Judicial District

  3. Prosecutor says:

    Did you see the firepower those officers are sporting? Where is that checkpoint, Mogadishu? (or Durham?)

  4. Phil says:

    NC and other states have begun targeting motorcycles for checkpoints. One wonders if detection of “violations of any motor vehicle law” justifies checkpoints designated for motorcycles only. After reading the piece, the answer seems to be “yes”; yet if you are a rider and encounter a motocycle-only checkpoint, you very much get the feeling that you are being singled out, not due to being on a motorcycle, but because you are a motorcyclist. I’d be interested to hear any comments by the staff on why a checkpoint targeting a specific class of vehicle would not violate the statute and the Constitution.

  5. Phil says:

    What advice does the author have when the motorist frustrates the effort to develop reasonable suspicion under a DWI checkpoint scenario. LE can compel the driver to surrender a license under NC law (I found no statute requiring a driver to surrender a registration or insurance document), yet this can be achieved in a car or truck by opening a window less than one inch. Can LE compel a driver to exit their vehicle or fully lower a window in order to develop RS or PC?

  6. Don says:

    Drivers License and Registration Check Points are illegal. The Police and DA conveniently avoid reading the entire Statute, 20-16.3A. Subsection (c) states ” (c) Law enforcement agencies may conduct any type of checking station or roadblock as long as it is established and operated in accordance with the provisions of the United States Constitution and the Constitution of
    North Carolina.”
    Article I of the North Carolina Constitution, Section 20 states ” SEC. 20 Geneal Warrants General warrants, whereby any officer or other person may be commanded to search suspected places without evidencce of the act committed, or to sieze any person or persons not named, whose offense is not particularly described and supportedby evidence, are dangerous to liberty and shall not be granted.”
    The 4th Ammendment to the U.S. Constitution state “Amendment 4-Search and Seizure. Ratified 12/15/1791.
    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or
    affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    Drivers License and Registration Check Points violates both Constitutions, thus is unlawful.

    • Preston says:

      Everyone seems to forget that in NC driving is a privilize not a right under any constitution. The state can take your license or vehicle registration at anytime. You pay a fee to drive and have a tag. Don’t pay the fee and see what happens. You do not have to drive, so checkpoints to make sure you have a license, proper registration and insurance are not unconstitutional in NC.

  7. Dino says:

    If the courts have upheld these checkpoints (which I believe are illegal), it doesn’t much matter that the police and DA “conveniently” avoid reading the entire statute.

  8. Gary says:

    I have just left the website that offered the same pdf and at the bottom it pretty much states it is a guide and I never got any straight answer as to what is legal and what’s not. Then on the other hand you can go on you tube and people are screaming fourth amendment, won’t answer any questions, will not exit their vehicle. In most they argue for a while then let the subject go then there are some that have the cops going crazy and doing what they want. I did read where in one county in Georgia you cannot refuse a breath test and if you do they take you in and strap you down and take your blood. I don’t see how this county can over ride state laws and the constitution.

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