The North Carolina Court of Appeals has weighed in, again, penning an opinion that will likely affect DUI Checkpoints in Charlotte NC.
Judge Davis, joined by concurrence with Judges Calabria and Elmore, in North Carolina v. Macdonald (also referred to as State v. Macdonald) has vacated the ruling by Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Hugh Lewis and remanded the matter back to Mecklenburg Superior Court for further findings.
Checkpoints involve more than just DWI charges. Law enforcement may call them “Drunk Driving” checkpoints, license checks, safety stops, and even missing or “wanted person” checks.
Frankly, under the NC criminal laws, it doesn’t much matter what they’re called.
The big question to resolve, at least from a criminal defense standpoint is this: Are checkpoints legal?
The Court of Appeals made one thing very clear. The Judge can’t just take their word for it. Police must have a legit reason to get around the 4th Amendment – Bill Powers, Criminal Defense Attorney
Coming up with a name or reason for the checking station, even if for a stated lawful or constitutional purpose, does not change the fact that there are numerous, substantial factors that must be considered by the Court in determining the legality of the checkpoint.
Unlike almost any other area of criminal law, checkpoints get around the basic 4th Amendment concept that police must have Probable Cause or Reasonable Suspicion to stop you or your vehicle.
Because of that, checkpoints require close inspection of the Primary Programmatic Purpose, implementation, and administration of checkpoints, and whether such checking stations were reasonable in their enforcement, achieving the goals as projected.
Those points are more fully fleshed out in the Macdonald opinion, where the NC Court of Appeals states evidence was adduced at hearing that may have served as legal justification or basis for the checkpoint.
Legality of Checkpoints:
1. Courts cannot blindly accept assertions of law enforcement, ignoring the need for legal analysis
2. Courts must set forth, with a reasonable level of particularity, the basis for an opinion to show compliance with the constitutions of the United States and North Carolina.
The Normal Rule: Motorists cannot be stopped by law enforcement without Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause. At a minimum, police must be suspicious, based on reason and common sense, that criminal activity is “afoot.”
Exception to the Normal Rule: Checkpoints, where a seizure** has occurred, may be made without observation of any offense or illegality
**Checkpoints are deemed “seizures” under rulings by the NC Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.
Logic: Overall Public Concern / Danger of “X” Offense vs. Stated Minimal Intrusion Upon Individual Motorist
Constitutional Consideration: Public Good Outweighs Private 4th Amendment Rights & Freedom to be Left Alone
Quick Tip Legal Summary:
- All three “Brown” Factors must be appropriately addressed by the Court. Brown v. Texas USSC 1979.
- Brown Factors being:
- Gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure
- Degree to which the seizure advanced public interests
- Restrictions on the discretion of the officers conducting the checkpoint to ensure that the intrusion on individual liberty is no greater than is necessary to achieve the checkpoint’s objectives
“Although the trial court concluded that the checkpoint had a lawful primary purpose, its inquiry does not end with that finding. Instead, the trial court must still determine whether the checkpoint itself was reasonable.” State v. Jarrett
Important Court of Appeals Quotes:
We do not believe this bare conclusion is sufficient given the failure of the trial court to adequately assess the Checkpoint’s reasonableness under the constitutional framework set out in Veazey and applied in other recent cases from our Court
The court made no findings regarding the tailoring of the checkpoint to the purpose (the second prong) and failed to consider all of the circumstances relating to the discretion afforded the officers in conducting the checkpoint (the third prong)
The trial court’s order lacks express findings on a number of these issues
Obiter Dictum or Fair Warning?
We further note that a number of the trial court’s “findings” in its order are not actual findings but rather are merely recitations of testimony. See State v. Derbyshire, __ N.C. App. __, __, 745 S.E.2d 886, 892-93 (2013) (“[A trial court’s] mere recitation of testimony . . . is not sufficient to constitute a valid finding of fact. . . . Findings of fact must be more than a mere summarization
DWI Lawyers – Powers Law Firm PA
If you’ve been charged with impaired driving in North Carolina or South Carolina, it’s time to lawyer up. The consequences of a conviction are often serious and long-term.
Our law firm provides sound legal advice, predicated on a dedication to the client, compassion, and attention to the details of the NC criminal laws.