The court of appeals reversed a defendant’s DWI conviction yesterday in State v. Ashworth, __ N.C. App. __ (August 2, 2016), on the basis that the trial court plainly erred in holding that the driver’s license checkpoint at which the defendant was stopped was appropriately tailored and advanced the public interest. Unlike some checkpoint cases in which you can see the trouble coming in the recitation of facts, Ashworth is a pretty routine checkpoint case. Two officers with the State Highway Patrol set up the checkpoint to look for driver’s license and other traffic violations. The highway patrol had a checkpoint policy that the officers followed. A supervisor approved the checkpoint. The defendant admitted that he had been drinking almost immediately after he stopped at the checkpoint. So where did the trial court go wrong?
I’ve had several questions about the role of drug dogs at motor vehicle checkpoints. The details are below, but a quick summary of the law is as follows:
(1) Officers can’t lawfully run drug dogs around every vehicle stopped at a checkpoint
(2) Officers can lawfully run drug dogs around cars that are pulled out of line for additional investigation, so long as the use of dog doesn’t substantially lengthen the stop
The facts. A detective with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department writes a plan for a checkpoint to be conducted later in the evening. The plan states that the checkpoint will be established at the intersection of Ashley Road and Joy Street in Charlotte, NC. The plan states that the checkpoint’s purpose is to increase police presence in the targeted area while checking for driver’s license and vehicle registration violations. The plan further states that all vehicles traveling through the checkpoint must be stopped unless the officer in charge determines that a hazard has developed or an unreasonable delay is occurring. If that situation arises, all vehicles must be allowed to pass through until the hazard or delay is cleared.
The checkpoint is conducted from 12:34 a.m. to 1:52 a.m. on the designated evening. Every vehicle that travels through the checkpoint is stopped, and the officers ask every driver for his or her driver’s license.
The question. A passenger in a car stopped at the checkpoint moves to suppress evidence obtained during the stop and subsequent search of the car, alleging that the checkpoint was unconstitutional.
If you were the court, how would you rule?
Impaired driving checkpoints work because they scare people—not because they ensnare people. Sure, a few people are arrested for DWI at such checkpoints. But many more are deterred from driving after they’ve had too much to drink because of the perception that they might be subject to a random and surprise stop. In fact, the … Read more
Regular and well-publicized checkpoints are an important component of the State’s effort to curtail impaired driving. Checkpoints provide specific as well as general deterrence. A handful of impaired drivers typically are arrested at any given checking station and subsequently prosecuted for impaired driving. Many more drivers than are stopped hear about the checkpoint. That publicity … Read more
I wrote a paper about motor vehicle checkpoints last year. It’s available here. Once in a while, I get asked about so-called ruse checkpoints, a subject that I didn’t address in the paper. A typical ruse checkpoint might work as follows. Officers deploy large, flashing temporary signs on a divided highway that say “drug checkpoint … Read more
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 … Read more