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How are sobriety checkpoints legal?

Sobriety checkpoints are a frustrating reality of our current legal system, but their acceptance is far from universal. Currently, about 20 percent of the country has outlawed their use on constitutional grounds. At a federal level, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled nearly thirty years ago that sobriety checkpoints could be used by law enforcement without violating citizens' rights because the intrusion to drivers is relatively minimal compared to the increased safety offered to the public. However, while Colorado does allow law enforcement to use sobriety checkpoints, it must do so according to appropriate guidelines.

Many legal experts object to sobriety checkpoints on the grounds that they violate the 4th amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure. In order to comply with this concern, Colorado requires officers to take several procedural precautions. When a sobriety checkpoint is to be used, it must be appropriately publicized. There is some debate as to what that actually means, and how much information police must give about the checkpoint. A cursory look at current or recent checkpoints will reveal that some precincts disclose when and where the checkpoint occurs, while other simply state that there is a checkpoint in effect.

Beyond publicizing a checkpoint, officers must use a predetermined system for stopping drivers to avoid discriminatory practices. For instance, a checkpoint may stop every third or every fifth car that comes through, unless a driver is exhibiting clear signs of intoxication before the stop even occurs. Once the stop is in progress, the officers are instructed to look for indicators like bloodshot eyes, fumbling fingers, visible containers of alcohol, alcoholic odors, slurred speech and oral admissions of recent drinking or drug use.

If you have received a DUI charge resulting from a sobriety checkpoint, it can still be fought. Fighting a sobriety checkpoint charge generally comes down to finding procedural irregularities in the way that your charge was issued. With the guidance of an experienced, professional attorney, you can ensure that your rights remain protected.

Source: Findlaw, "DUI Checkpoints," accessed Feb. 17, 2017

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