Common Questions and Helpful Answers About NC Criminal and DWI Charges
It is natural to have many questions and concerns when charged with a crime in North Carolina. These charges can have serious consequences and long-lasting effects on those charged with their families, so they need reliable answers quickly. Here, Todd Browning and Howard Long share their answers to many of these tough questions. Find out their thoughts on DWI, traffic charges, and many other crimes.
- Page 1
How do police decide who to stop for drunk driving in Charlotte?
Police officers in Mecklenburg County and North Carolina Highway Patrol are trained to look for numerous visual clues and driver behavior patterns when deciding whether to make an investigative stop of a drunk driving suspect. These visual clues, identified by a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study on impaired drivers, help officers determine if there is enough reasonable suspicion to justify pulling you over for DWI.
Outside of DUI checkpoints, police must have reasonable suspicion to legally stop you for drunk driving.
How Police Determine Reasonable Suspicion for a DWI Stop
The visual clues identified by the NHTSA fall into one of the following four categories:
- Problems Maintaining Proper Lane Position
- Speeding and Braking Problems
- Vigilance Problems
- Judgment Problems
Visual clues used to identify Problems Maintaining Proper Lane Position include:
- Weaving within a lane
- Weaving across lane lines
- Straddling a lane line
- Turning with a wide radius
- Almost striking a vehicle or other object
Visual clues used to identify Speeding and Braking Problems include:
- Stopping problems (too far, too short, too jerky)
- Accelerating or decelerating for no apparent reason
- Varying speed
- Slow speed (10+ mph under limit)
Visual clues used to identify Vigilance Problems include:
- Driving in opposing lanes or wrong way on one way
- Slow response to traffic signals
- Slow or failure to respond to officer’s signals
- Stopping in lane for no apparent reason
- Driving without headlights at night
- Failure to signal or signal inconsistent with action
Visual clues used to identify Judgment Problems include:
- Following too closely
- Improper or unsafe lane change
- Illegal or improper turn (too fast, jerky, sharp)
- Driving on other than designated roadway
- Stopping inappropriately in response to officer
- Inappropriate or unusual behavior (throwing up, arguing)
- Appearing to be impaired
If an officer observed you exhibiting any of these behaviors, he may be legally justified in stopping you for drunk driving, but not always. For example, if you make an illegal turn, you have likely violated the law and an officer is likely justified in stopping you on that fact alone. On the other hand, if you were weaving within your own lane only, an officer is not likely going to be justified in stopping you. When a DWI stop is based on the driver weaving within a lane, North Carolina law generally requires weaving within a lane plus some other fact in order for an officer to make a stop.
Find Out if Your Charlotte DWI Could be Dropped
If an officer did not have a legal justification for pulling you over, it may be possible to have your drunk driving charge dismissed based on that lack of reasonable suspicion. If you have been arrested for DWI in the Charlotte metro area, contact a Mecklenburg County DWI defense attorney at Browning & Long, PLLC for a free consultation to evaluate your case and assist in making this determination.
Related DWI Articles:
Will my NC driver’s license be suspended if I refuse to blow or if I'm arrested for DWI?
It depends. There are numerous instances where your driver's license will be revoked by North Carolina’s Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for issues involving or related to driving under the influence. The most common scenarios where the DMV will revoke your driver’s license is when you (i) willfully refuse to submit to chemical analysis (i.e. breath or blood test), (ii) are charged with and/or arrested for driving under the influence, or (iii) are convicted of driving under the influence.
License Suspension for Willful Refusal to Breathalyzer or Chemical Testing
The laws of most states, including North Carolina, highly encourage a person suspected of driving under the influence to submit to chemical analysis (i.e. breath or blood test). Such laws do so through the consequences implemented when a person refuses such testing. Specifically, North Carolina General Statute (N.C.G.S.) 20-16.2(a)(1) informs a driving under the influence suspect that they may refuse any chemical test, but doing so will result in their driver’s license being revoked for a period of one year, and in some cases even longer.
This often means that if you refuse a chemical test, your driver's license will be revoked for one year. It's important to know the difference between the various breath-testing instruments and the consequences of refusing to blow in these devices. For example, an alcohol screening test, often referred to as a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT), is a breath test that is typically administered roadside before you are arrested. Refusing to submit to this test is not considered a willful refusal and will not revoke your driver's license for a period of one year. Thus, an alcohol screening test is not considered a chemical test for this purpose. However, a breath test using the Intoxilyzer 5000 or Intox EC/IR II, as well as a blood draw, are considered chemical tests. If you refuse to submit to these tests, your driver's license may be revoked for a period of one year. The Intoxilyzer 500 and Intox EC/IR II are generally administered after you have been arrested and left the scene.
License Suspension After Being Charged and/or Arrested for DWI
Under North Carolina General Statute (N.C.G.S.) 20-16.5(b), a person driving under the influence is subject to civil revocation of their driver’s license if the following applies:
- A law enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person has committed an implied consent offense;
- The person is charged with an implied consent offense;
- The law enforcement officer and the chemical analyst comply with the procedures of G.S. 20-16.2 and G.S. 20-139.1 in requiring the person's submission to or procuring a chemical analysis; and
- The person
- Willfully refuses to submit to the chemical analysis;
- Has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more within a relevant time after the driving;
- Has an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or more at any relevant time after the driving of a commercial motor vehicle; or
- Has any alcohol concentration at any relevant time after the driving and the person is under 21 years of age.
When your driver's license is revoked under N.C.G.S. 20-16.5(b), the minimum period of revocation is either 30 or 45 days depending on when your driver’s license was surrendered. If your driver’s license is surrendered within five (5) working days of the revocation (generally the day you were charged), the minimum revocation period is 30 days. If your driver’s license is not surrendered within five (5) working days of the revocation, the minimum revocation is generally 45 days from the date you surrender your driver’s license. Additionally, if you have a pending driving under the influence charge or other implied consent offense, your driver's license will be suspended indefinitely until all pending charges are resolved.
License Suspension After a Drunk Driving Conviction
A conviction for driving under the influence results in a mandatory revocation of a person’s driver’s license by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) under North Carolina General Statute (N.C.G.S.) 20-17(a)(2). The length of such driver’s license revocation largely depends on whether you have any prior impaired driving convictions, and if so, the amount of time that has passed since those convictions.
Contact Our Charlotte DWI License Restoration Lawyers
If your driver’s license has been revoked due to one of the three common scenarios discussed under this question, it is important to remember that there are often circumstances where a you may be able to legally drive with a limited driving privilege. A DWI defense attorney at Browning & Long, PLLC can assist you in getting you back on the road as soon as possible.
What factors will the court consider when sentencing me for a DUI conviction in Mecklenburg County?
If you have been convicted of DUI in Mecklenburg County, the level of punishment of you will face is determined by the existence and balancing of what are called grossly aggravating factors, aggravating factors, or mitigating factors. Several of the following legal terms can be difficult to grasp, so it's always best to consult with a DWI defense attorney if you've been charged.
Grossly Aggravating Factors for DUI Sentencing
Grossly aggravating factors are seen as more serious than aggravating factors. The State must prove any grossly aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt. With that, the first step in determining the level of punishment you will face if convicted of DUI is to find out whether any grossly aggravating factors exist.
Four grossly aggravating factors:
- A prior conviction for a DUI related offense (See N.C.G.S. 20-4.01(24a) for the list of offenses) if:
- the prior conviction occurred within seven years of the current DUI offense date;
- the prior conviction occurred after the current DUI offense date, but before or at the same time as the sentencing in the current DUI case; or
- the prior conviction was in District Court, the conviction was appealed to Superior Court, the appeal was withdrawn or the case was remanded back to District Court, and a new sentencing hearing for the case has not been held.
- At the time of the current DUI offense, you drove while your driver’s license was revoked and the revocation was for a DUI revocation under N.C.G.S. 20-28.2(a).
- Your DUI caused serious injury to another person.
- At the time of the current DUI offense, you drove while:
- A child under the age of 18 years was in the vehicle
- A person with the mental development of a child under the age of 18 years was in the vehicle; or
- A person with a physical disability preventing unaided exit from the vehicle was in the vehicle.
Aggravating Factors for DUI Sentencing
As mentioned, aggravating factors are considered less serious than grossly aggravating factors. However, like grossly aggravating factors, the State must prove any aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt. When there are no grossly aggravating factors, or where grossly aggravating factors exist but the judge decides to consider any aggravating and mitigating factors as well, the next step in DUI sentencing is to determine whether any aggravating factors exist.
Nine aggravating factors:
- Gross impairment of your faculties while driving or an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more.
- Especially reckless or dangerous driving.
- Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident.
- Driving while your driver's license was revoked.
- Two or more prior convictions of certain motor vehicle offenses for which at least three points are assigned or which subject your driver’s license to revocation, if the convictions occurred within five years of the current offense, or one or more prior convictions of an offense involving DUI that occurred more than seven years before the current offense.
- Conviction under N.C.G.S. 20-141.5 of speeding to elude.
- Conviction under N.C.G.S. 20-141 of speeding by at least 30 miles per hour over the legal limit.
- Passing a stopped school bus in violation of N.C.G.S. 20-217.
- Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.
Mitigating Factors for DUI Sentencing
After determining whether any aggravating factors exist, the next step in determining the appropriate level of punishment in DUI sentencing is to see if any mitigating factors exist. It is your burden to prove the existence of any mitigating factor by a preponderance of the evidence.
Eight mitigating factors:
- Slight impairment of your faculties resulting solely from alcohol, and an alcohol concentration that did not exceed 0.09 at any relevant time after the driving.
- Slight impairment of your faculties, resulting solely from alcohol, with no chemical analysis having been available to the defendant.
- Safe and lawful driving at the time of the offense, except for the DUI.
- A safe driving record.
- Impairment caused by a lawfully prescribed drug for an existing medical condition, and the amount of the drug taken was within the prescribed dosage.
- Voluntary submission to a substance abuse assessment and voluntary participation in the recommended treatment.
- Completion of a substance abuse assessment, compliance with its recommendations, and simultaneously maintaining 60 days of continuous abstinence from alcohol consumption, as proven by a continuous alcohol monitoring system.
- Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense.
DUI/DWI Sentencing Levels of Punishment
The determination of the appropriate DWI sentencing level of punishment involves balancing the presence of any grossly aggravating factors, aggravating factors, and mitigating factors mentioned above. The chart below summarizes the six sentencing levels and the corresponding punishments authorized by N.C.G.S. 20-179.
Aggravated Level One
Factors Fine Probationary Conditions Three or more grossly aggravating factors Up to $10,000 If suspended, must require 1-imprisonment of at least 120 days; AND 2-alcohol abstinence of at least 120 days to a maximum of the term of probation, as verified by CAM.
Imprisonment: 12 months minimum to 36 months maximum
Substance Abuse Assessment Required: Yes
Factors Fine Probationary Conditions 1. Grossly aggravating factor in N.C.G.S. 20-179(c)(4); OR
2. Two other grossly aggravating factors
Up to $4,000 If suspended, must require 1-imprisonment of at least 30 days; OR 2-imprisonment of at least 10 days and alcohol abstinence and CAM for at least 120 days
Imprisonment: 30 days minimum to 24 months maximum
Substance Abuse Assessment Required: Yes
Factors Fine Probationary Conditions One grossly aggravating factor Up to $2,000 If suspended, must require 1-imprisonment of at least 7 days; OR 2-alcohol abstinence and CAM for at least 90 days
Imprisonment: 7 days minimum to 12 months maximum
Substance Abuse Assessment Required: Yes
Factors Fine Probationary Conditions Aggravating factors substantially outweigh any mitigating factors Up to $1,000 If suspended, must require one or both of the following: 1-imprisonment for at least 72 hours 2-community service for a term of at least 72 hours
Imprisonment: 72 hours minimum to 6 months maximum
Substance Abuse Assessment Required: Yes
Factors Fine Probationary Conditions No aggravating or mitigating factors or aggravating factors are substantially counterbalanced by mitigating factors Up to $500 If suspended, must require one or both of the following: 1-imprisonment for 48 hours 2-community service for a term of 48 hours
Imprisonment: 48 hours minimum to 120 days maximum
Substance Abuse Assessment Required: Yes
Factors Fine Probationary Conditions Mitigating factors substantially outweigh aggravating factors Up to $200 If suspended, must require one or both of the following:
1-imprisonment for 24 hours
2-community service for a term of 24 hours
Imprisonment: 24 hours to 60 days maximum
Substance Abuse Assessment Required: Yes
Contact Our Charlotte DUI Lawyers if you have questions regarding a DWI arrest in Mecklenburg County by calling 980-224-4482.
- A prior conviction for a DUI related offense (See N.C.G.S. 20-4.01(24a) for the list of offenses) if:
What can I do if I cannot afford to pay my traffic ticket?
Traffic tickets are treated very seriously in North Carolina. Unless an infraction is a minor one that is a waivable offense, you will need to attend a court hearing to find out the fine you must pay. You can face even harsher penalties if you ignore the ticket or do not pay the fines within the time period set by the judge.
What to Do If You Cannot Afford to Pay Your Traffic Ticket in Charlotte
Fortunately, you do have options if you have low income and truly cannot afford to pay your traffic ticket. Here’s what you should do in this situation:
- Request a reduction. If you have proof of your income that shows that you cannot afford to pay the ticket amount, you can provide this documentation to the judge and ask for a reduction in the amount of your fine or a payment plan. A number of North Carolina jurisdictions allow alternate payment plans.
- Obtain an extension. If you need to wait until your next paycheck or until you receive other anticipated funds to pay your ticket, you can request an extension to pay the fine. You may need to provide documentation when asking for this.
- Ask about traffic school. The judge may permit you to take a traffic school course instead of paying all or part of your ticket. However, it is important to ask the judge about this option before paying to enroll in a class because this is not always an option.
- Offer community service. You may be able to perform community service instead of paying your fine if you cannot afford it. Again, it would be up to the judge to grant your request.
- Fight your ticket. Even if you are guilty of the traffic offense, you may have defenses that you can use to fight the ticket. This can result in the ticket being dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense with a smaller fine that you can afford to pay. It can also mean less harsh long-term consequences—which can include a permanent criminal record, points on your driver’s record, and higher auto insurance costs.
We’re Here to Help If You Cannot Afford to Pay Your Traffic Ticket
Are you having problems paying a traffic ticket fine in Charlotte? Do you need assistance fighting your traffic ticket? Our experienced traffic ticket attorneys are here to help. To discuss your situation and learn what options are best for you, call our Charlotte office or start an online chat to schedule your free consultation today.
What does it mean to waive a traffic offense?
In North Carolina, being issued a traffic ticket is a more serious offense than in other states. For many tickets, you must attend a court hearing in order to learn your punishment. However, if you were given a ticket for certain minor offenses, you have the option of waiving the traffic offense.
Waiving a traffic offense is choosing to resolve your traffic ticket without going to court. You do so by paying the fine and cost before your court hearing. Offenses, when this is permitted, are often referred to as “waivable” offenses because you are waiving or giving up your right to go to court and fight your ticket. You are pleading guilty to the offense, and the court will treat your criminal case as if you plead guilty.
Examples of Traffic Violations That Are Waivable
There are currently over 40 speeding and other traffic offenses where a court hearing can be waived. Some of these include:
- Speeding over the speed limit as long as it is not over 80 miles per hours
- Exceeding a safe speed
- Failure to use seat belts
- Cell phone usage by a driver under 18 years old
- Possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle
- Failing to stop for a stoplight or a stop sign
- Failure to yield to a pedestrian
How Can You Tell If Your Traffic Ticket Is Waivable?
The police will often note on a traffic citation whether it is a waivable offense, and, if so, the fines and costs that would have to be paid to waive it. In addition, each year the chief district judges review and publish a list of waivable traffic violations. You can find a current waiver list on the North Carolina Judicial Branch website.
Are you considering waiving your traffic offense? This may not be in your best interests if you have defenses that may result in the ticket being dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense. Our experienced Charlotte traffic ticket attorneys are here to explain your options to you and to fight for the best possible option in your case. Start an online chat to schedule a free consultation today to learn more.
What happens if I don’t pay my traffic ticket in North Carolina?
If you receive a traffic ticket in North Carolina, you should not treat it lightly. Some of them, such as reckless driving and failing to have required auto insurance, are misdemeanor offenses that can result in harsh penalties and a permanent criminal record. In addition, you could face serious consequences if you do not pay your fines.
What Could Happen to You If You Fail to Pay Your Traffic Ticket?
For many traffic tickets, you cannot just pay the fine and must instead attend a court hearing where the judge will decide what you owe and other conditions that you must meet. If you fail to attend this hearing and do not pay your fine, here are the consequences that can result:
- If you miss your court hearing and do not otherwise resolve your case within 20 days of your hearing date, the court clerk will report the violation to the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
- If the judge disposed of your case at your court hearing and you do not pay the fine you were ordered to pay by the deadline set by the judge, the court clerk will report your delinquency to the DMV once 40 days from your failure to pay has passed.
- Once the DMV receives a notice of your noncompliance from the court, they will send you a notice advising you that your driver’s license will be revoked unless you resolve your case by a deadline set in the notice. If you still do not comply, your license would be revoked.
You may owe additional administrative fees if you do not attend your court hearing or pay your traffic ticket on time. For misdemeanor offenses, the consequences can be even more severe. Once your license is revoked, you must do the following to have it reinstated:
- Failure to appear. If your violation included not attending your court hearing, you must either resolve your traffic ticket case or convince the judge that you are not the person who was charged with the offense for your license to be reinstated.
- Failure to pay. If you did not pay the ticket, you must pay what you owe, prove to the judge that your failure to pay was not willful and that you are making a good faith effort to pay it, or show why the amount owed should be reduced or considered settled.
Contact a Charlotte Traffic Ticket Attorney
You can avoid these and other serious consequences of a traffic ticket by retaining an experienced Charlotte traffic ticket attorney. To learn how we can assist you, call our Charlotte office or fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation today.
Will I get a ticket if I am caught driving without car insurance in North Carolina?
North Carolina takes the requirement of having automobile insurance very seriously. If you are caught driving without it, you will not receive a minor traffic ticket. Instead, you will be charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor offense and will have a permanent criminal record if convicted.
What Are the Minimum Requirements for Auto Insurance in North Carolina?
In North Carolina, all drivers are required to have a minimum of $30,000 for bodily injury per person, $60,000 in bodily insurance per accident, and $25,000 in property damage per accident in automobile liability coverage. Drivers also must have the same minimum amounts of uninsured bodily injury coverage to protect themselves if they are injured in an accident caused by an uninsured driver.
If a motorist lets his insurance coverage lapse, his insurance company is required to report it to the Department of Motor Vehicles. In addition, a police officer can request to see a person’s proof of insurance when pulling him over in a traffic stop.
What Are the Penalties for Driving Without the Required Insurance?
North Carolina uses a complicated sentencing system that factors in the person’s prior criminal record when he is convicted of committing a misdemeanor offense. If you are charged with driving without the required auto insurance, the penalty you could face will depend on the number of times you have been convicted of this offense. Here are some potential punishments:
- First offense. You will have to pay a $50 civil penalty, $50 reinstatement fee, and could be sentenced to probation for between 1 and 45 days. In addition, your registration and license plates could be suspended for 30 days.
- Second offense. The civil penalty is increased to $100. In addition, the judge could sentence you to jail or probation for up to 45 days. The other penalties are the same as those for a first offense.
- Third offense. The civil penalty for a third and subsequent violation increases to $150. All other penalties are the same as for a second offense conviction.
Questions About Driving Without Insurance?
You may also have points added to your insurance and driving record, which can significantly increase your insurance costs. You cannot afford to treat failing to have the required insurance or other traffic offenses lightly. Let our experienced traffic ticket attorneys help you fight your ticket so that you achieve the best possible outcome in your criminal case. Schedule a free consultation today.
What are the penalties for running a red light or stop sign in North Carolina?
If you receive a traffic ticket for running a red light or stop sign in Charlotte, you may be tempted to handle it on your own and just pay the fine. However, a traffic ticket’s consequences can affect many aspects of your life and may cost you more in the long run if you take this approach rather than retaining an experienced traffic law attorney to help you.
North Carolina’s Traffic Laws on Red Lights and Stop Signs
Like all states, North Carolina has enacted laws regarding how drivers must drive when approaching a stop sign or stop light. Here are some of the rules that people must follow:
- Stopping. When coming to a stop sign or stop light, drivers are required to come to a complete stop at the nearest of the following: entering the crosswalk, reaching a marked stop line, or entering the intersection.
- Right-on-Red Rule. Under North Carolina’s Right-on-Red law, drivers are allowed to make a right turn at a red light after stopping if it is permitted. They must first yield the right of way when making the turn.
- Left-on-Red Rule. It is illegal to make a left turn at a red light in our state.
- Yellow lights. People can get a ticket for running a yellow light in some states. However, in North Carolina, a yellow light is simply a warning that the light will turn red soon. It is legal to be in the intersection when the light is yellow—but not if it has turned red.
Penalties for Running a Red Light or Stop Sign
Running a red light or stop sign is an infraction in North Carolina. Here are possible penalties you face:
- Fine of up to $100
- 3 points on your driving record
- 3 points on your insurance record
If you receive 12 or more points in a three-year period, you could have your driver’s license suspended. In addition, points on your insurance may result in your insurance rates increasing for years after you resolve your ticket.
Talk To A Charlotte Traffic Ticket Lawyer
It is best to retain an experienced traffic law attorney rather than just paying the ticket for a traffic violation. A lawyer can build a strong defense and suggest strategies, such as attending driving school or performing community service, which may help get the ticket reduced. Call our office to schedule a free consultation to learn how we can help you defend against your traffic ticket and reach the best possible outcome for you.
Who Gets My Property When I Die in North Carolina?
As is typically the case in the legal world of wills, trusts, and estates, the answer is it depends.
The Probate Process
To begin to answer this question, you must first understand what the probate process is and why it exists. In its simplest form, probate refers to the process through which the probate court determines how to distribute your property after you die.
The probate process is of importance because it accomplishes several important objectives, such as the following:
- Provides for the orderly transfer of the title of your property upon your death.
- Ensure that creditors receive notice, an opportunity to present their claims, and payment.
- Extinguishes claims of creditors who do not timely present their claims.
- Ensure your property is properly distributed to those who are entitled to receive it.
Non-Probate or Probate Property
To determine how a probate court will distribute your property upon your death depends first on the type of property involved; that is, whether the property is probate property or non-probate property.
Non-probate property is property that bypasses the probate court process mentioned above and passes directly to your listed beneficiaries. Generally, you must take some type of affirmative steps prior to your death for property to qualify as non-probate property.
Non-probate property includes:
- Life insurance
- Joint with the Right of Survivorship Owned Accounts
- Payable on Death (POD)/Transferable on Death Accounts
- Joint with Right of Survivorship or Tenants by the Entirety Real Property
- Joint with Right of Survivorship Titled Automobiles
- Inter Vivos Trust Property
Such non-probate property does not pass through the probate court process. Instead, your non-probate property transfers to your designated beneficiaries pursuant to the terms of the legal instrument creating it, often referred to as a will substitute.
If the property in question does not qualify as non-probate, the property will be classified as probate property and pass through the probate court process.
Last Will and Testament Versus Intestacy
Who your probate property passes to depends on whether you have a valid Last Will and Testament. If you do have a Last Will and Testament, your probate property passes according to its terms. However, if you do not have a Last Will and Testament, or if it does not dispose of all of your property, your probate property passes intestate, which means according to the laws set forth in the North Carolina General Statutes.
While intestacy laws are complex, the basic order of who will take your probate property if you do not have a will is as follows:
- Your surviving spouse
- Your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, or issue
- Your parents
- Your siblings
- Your grandparents/aunts and uncles
- Your next-of-kin
- Escheats to the state
Contact the Probate Attorneys at Browning & Long, PLLC Today
To ensure that your property passes to the people you want it to, it is important to discuss your alternatives with an estate planning and probate attorney. Our attorneys at Browning & Long, PLLC can assist you in this endeavor. Contact us today online, or by phone at 980-207-3355, to begin protecting your family's future, as well as your own legacy.
Can an Officer Stop a Driver for Legally Turning Away from a DWI Checkpoint?
The short answer to this question is, yes, in light of and pursuant to the totality of the circumstances a person can be stopped for making a legal turn within the perimeters of a DWI checkpoint.
Reasonable Articulable Suspicion (RAS)
To not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the general rule is that law enforcement officers must have reasonable articulable suspicion (RAS) in order to stop someone. An officer has RAS when he or she observes conduct, which leads him or her to reasonably believe that criminal conduct may be afoot. In such a scenario, that officer may stop the suspicious person to make reasonable inquiries. To do so, the officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts, which taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the stop.
However, DWI checkpoints are an exception to this general rule. In Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, the United States Supreme Court held that stops made pursuant to DWI checkpoints do not violate the Fourth Amendment’s bar against unreasonable searches and seizures, so long as the DWI checkpoint is conducted in accordance with the mandatory constitutional and statutory requirements.
State of North Carolina v. Foreman
A case decided by the North Carolina Supreme Court, State v. Foreman, is the most relevant case on point for determining the law regarding when an officer can stop a person who makes a legal turn away from a DWI checkpoint.
The facts from this case are as follows:
The New Bern Police Department was conducting a DWI checkpoint in Craven County, North Carolina. Notice signs stating “DWI Checkpoint Ahead” were posted 1/10 of a mile prior to where cars were being stopped. An officer who was in a marked police car parked close to the checkpoint’s perimeter was tasked with pursuing any and all vehicles which appeared to attempt to avoid the checkpoint by turning around or away from it to determine the basis for such avoidance.
At approximately, 2:00 A.M., the defendant approached the DWI checkpoint. Immediately prior to passing the “DWI Checkpoint Ahead” signs, the defendant made a “quick left turn” followed by “a second abrupt left turn.” After momentarily losing sight of the vehicle, the officer found the defendant’s car parked in a residential driveway with its lights and engine off. The defendant was also seen crouched down hiding inside the car.
The North Carolina Supreme Court held, “Although a legal turn, by itself, is not sufficient to establish a reasonable, articulable suspicion, a legal turn in conjunction with other circumstances, such as the time, place and manner in which it is made, may constitute a reasonable, articulable suspicion which could justify an investigatory stop…Therefore, we hold that it is reasonable and permissible for … an officer, in light of and pursuant to the totality of the circumstances, to pursue and stop a vehicle which has turned away from a checkpoint within its perimeters for reasonable inquiry to determine why the vehicle turned away.”
Distinguishing a DWI Checkpoint Case from the Foreman Case
As can be seen from the Court’s ruling in State v. Foreman, depending on the totality of the circumstances, a law enforcement officer may be permitted to stop a driver who makes a legal turn away from a DWI checkpoint while near its perimeters. Even so, facts that may distinguish a case from the facts in Foreman, could include:
- Time of the Stop (i.e. earlier in the evening as opposed to early morning hours)
- Positioning of the “DWI Checkpoint Ahead” Notice Signs
- Placement of the DWI Checkpoint (i.e. perimeters of a checkpoint near a major intersection where many cars may naturally turn or on a rural roadway with little traffic)
- Manner of the Legal Turn (i.e. a quick left turn followed by an abrupt left turn or slow controlled movements with proper signaling)
- Behavior After the Legal Turn (i.e. no unusual driving, such as parking in a residential driveway or hiding in an apartment complex; in fact, slow controlled driving and proper stop with turn signal and hazards)
Contact Our DWI Checkpoint Attorneys at Browning & Long, PLLC
If you have been charged with Driving While Impaired in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, contact our DWI attorneys online, or call us at 980-207-3355, today for a free consultation. Our attorneys at Browning & Long, PLLC can discuss the specific facts of your case with you and assist you in preparing a defense that will be in your best interest.
DWI Case Results: