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What is the overriding focus of a sobriety checkpoint?

In the wee morning hours this past Saturday, one Charlotte locale became the venue for a most pronounced police presence.

That area: the 500 block of East Mallard Creek Church Road, which for a four-hour period was the designated site for a sobriety checkpoint involving more than two dozen officers from local, county and state enforcement agencies.

Their tally, as noted in a headline from the Charlotte Observer: seven DWI arrests.

That begs a question, namely this: Is that really a cost-effective use of taxpayers' money? Is it not likely that 28 officers going about their normal rounds and acting with requisite due diligence on Charlotte roadways on a weekend evening for four hours would have made at least that many -- if not more -- impaired-driving arrests?

And here's another good-faith question: What is the real -- the peeled-away and fundamental -- reason for engaging in such an exercise of authority? It is eminently notable from details provided by the Observer that the DWI arrests comprised an almost negligible takeaway for area cops; in fact, they accounted for only about 12 percent of all the arrests that were made.

In fact, nearly 60 percent of the ensnared drivers who were criminally charged or ticketed were singled out for a driver's license infraction of some sort. And just about as many individuals were charged with drug crimes as with drinking-related offenses.

It hardly seems controversial to note that sobriety checkpoints that are ostensibly set up to nab drunk drivers often bring criminal charges for motorists on other offenses.

And it merits noting that such charges issue without any probable cause for officers to effect a stop and have an initial encounter in the first place.

Criticisms against sobriety checkpoints are far from rare. In fact, a dozen states across the country flatly disallow checkpoints out of a concern that they are illegal. North Carolina is obviously not one of them.

Perhaps the Observer headline should have stressed that substantial police resources committed for a sizable block of hours yielded a number of citations and criminal charges entirely unrelated to drinking and driving, and with the bedrock constitutional requirement of probable cause being circumvented.

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Law Office of Christopher A. Connelly
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