Probable Cause In a North Carolina DWI

Clients are frequently curious about a phrase that is ubiquitous on television, but rather ambiguous in the layman’s mind: “Probable Cause”.
In a DWI context the officer who arrests a driver for driving while impaired usually must demonstrate that he had Probable Cause to arrest the person that he suspects.
Although Probable Cause has been defined in slightly different ways by different courts, in 1988 the North Carolina Court of Appeals defined it as:
“A reasonable ground of suspicion supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to warrant a cautious man in believing the accused to be guilty.” For the purposes of this discussion (and in most NC DWI cases) this is the relevant definition.
What this means in practice in a Charlotte DWI is that the officer cannot arrest a person just because he has a hunch or an intuition, he must be able to demonstrate that there were objective factors that led him to the conclusion that the person was guilty.
There are several different ways that these factors are typically established. The first is the driving of the defendant- the officer will testify about weaving or traffic violations, or sometimes about an accident.
The second is the officer’s observations of the person after he makes contact, for instance their ability to speak clearly, the odor of alcohol or marijuana, the person’s ability to stand and walk and communicate normally.
The third is any statements the person makes including the person’s admission to drinking or an admission that she was coming from a bar or party. Also relevant is whether the person is excited or overly emotional in making these statements.
The officer may administer a portable breath test to determine whether there is alcohol in the person’s system (in North Carolina the specific reading is not admissible- only whether any alcohol existed).
The final factor and sometimes the most valuable for the prosecution, is the overall performance of the individual on the standardized field sobriety tests or SFST’s. If conducted properly these tests can give an officer ammunition in court to establish problems with brain function, balance and ability to perform tasks. Often a judge weighs these factors heavily in making a decision.
These are the most common factors considered by the court in making a determination of Probable Cause. In some cases a Judge will determine that the factors as a whole were not “sufficiently strong in themselves to warrant a cautious man in believing the accused to be guilty” and the remedy for that is typically a suppression of the results of the arrest which leads to a dismissal of the case.
If you have been cited with a Charlotte DWI you please call the offices of Rosensteel Fleishman to speak with an experienced attorney about your case.

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Checkpoints in North Carolina Traffic Cases

Increasingly law enforcement agencies in Charlotte have been utilizing checking stations also known as “checkpoints” or “road blocks”. These checking stations are controversial but do yield a large number of arrests in Mecklenburg County.
The reason that they are controversial is that they stop drivers who have committed no crime or traffic infraction and who have done nothing else to raise suspicion about them. Many people believe that this is contrary to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. Ultimately the United States Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of North Carolina have found these checkpoints to be Constitutional, but their rulings, and North Carolina Statutes place limitations on law enforcement’s ability to conduct these warrantless stops.
Checkpoints must be conducted pursuant to a written plan. The plan and the reason for the checkpoint must meet strict standards to be deemed Constitutional. Some of the requirements relate to the way that the checkpoint is physically set up and which cars are stopped and how the cars are stopped. Some of the requirements deal with the purpose of the checkpoint and the checkpoints actual relation to preventing crime. One of the things a good attorney does in handling a checkpoint DWI is to review this checkpoint plan in relation to the court cases that have established the Constitutional standards.
If you have been stopped at a Charlotte DWI checkpoint call an attorney at Rosensteel Fleishman to discuss your case.

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