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New rules protect drunk driving defendants at DWI checkpoints

Recently decided court cases in North Carolina have set new standards for DWI checkpoints in the Wake County area. Nearly every weekend, law enforcement agencies in the region implement sobriety checkpoints designed to nab intoxicated drivers. As those checkpoints have become increasingly common, advocates for drunk driving defendants are continuing to fight for drivers' civil rights. A landmark decision on Feb. 4 has led to new precedents that could lead to the dismissal of key evidence in scores of DWI cases.

The decision was issued by the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The three judges agreed law enforcement officers must have written guidelines for conducting the traffic stops, or the evidence collected during the checkpoint efforts will not be admissible in court. In December, though, the appeals court upheld a lower court's ruling that a warrant was not needed to obtain a blood sample for testing a defendant's blood alcohol level since a warrant could not be gotten immediately.

In that case, a driver was taken to a hospital after refusing to submit to a breath test at the site of the checkpoint. The officer did not obtain a warrant for searching the man or obtaining the blood collection, arguing that the case was "urgent" and a warrant could not be obtained in time. Officers are, indeed, allowed to conduct warrantless searches in emergency situations, but courts have urged police to utilize existing technology that will allow round-the-clock access to magistrates who can grant warrants. Officers should make use of all available resources in order to obtain a warrant.

North Carolina residents accused of drunk driving still have rights. An arrest for drunk driving should not mean that you are automatically considered guilty. North Carolina criminal attorneys may help defendants learn more about their legal rights and options after a drunk driving arrest.

Source: Charlotte Observer, "NC court cases help set the framework for Raleigh DWI checkpoints" Anne Blythe, Feb. 05, 2014

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