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Law enforcement agencies in Durham County periodically set up “DWI Checking Stations,” at which every driver is stopped, detained, and investigated without suspicion of any crime.  Sound unconstitutional? Sound like an excerpt from a dystopian novel?

Well, the United States Supreme Court of the United States held in City of Indianapolis v. Edmond (2000) that DUI/DWI checkpoints are presumptively unconstitutional.  The risk of abuse by law enforcement is great, and the Court sought to limit the ability of law enforcement to overstep its bounds by putting in place simple crime dragnets.  That is, traps set up to stop and detain everyone just to find out if anyone is involved in any criminal activity of any kind.  That sort of roadblock is clearly illegal, and the Supreme Court at least got that right.  Clearly we’d be living under a police state if the police could simply set up roadblocks to stop and interrogate innocent citizens with no evidence of wrongdoing.  Right?

As it turns out, what the Supreme Court got wrong (from the perspective of those of us with an interest in the most basic concept of American liberty) was its earlier decision in Michigan Dept. of State Police et al. v. Sitz et al. (1990), in which the highest court in the land approved of the “limited” use of roadblocks to intrude on the liberties of any innocent citizens who choose to travel along a previously-unannounced route, as long as a valid “primary programmatic purpose” is established, along with certain other restrictions.  Of course, impaired driving checkpoints were explicitly approved as serving a valid programmatic purpose, which gave law enforcement agencies carte blanche to stop, detain, interrogate, and investigate innocent citizens who had committed no crime.

In Durham County in 2016, DWI roadblocks were set up on April 8 (Bacon St.), May 14 (US-70 and I-85), June 25 (Baptiste Rd. & Rolling View), August 27 (MLK Jr. Pkwy.), November 29 (Guess Rd. & Horton Rd.), and another one on December 9 at an unknown location.

If you’ve been subjected to a DWI checkpoint and charged with a crime, the first step you should take is to hire an attorney with the experience necessary to effectively challenging the unique issues that emerge in roadblock cases.


Durham DWI lawyer Ben Hiltzheimer is a criminal defense attorney in Durham, North Carolina, who represents individuals charged with DWIs and the full spectrum of misdemeanors and felonies. Contact us for a free, confidential consultation and case evaluation at (919) 899-9404.

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Ben is an experienced trial lawyer who earned his law degree from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He was trained in trial practice at the nation’s preeminent Public Defender agency, the federally funded Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, described by United States Attorney General Eric Holder as “the best public defender office in the country.”

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