The following scenario plays out recurrently on varied roadways across Colorado.
To wit: Drivers going about their customary business – returning home after work, bringing the kids to a school after-hours event, headed to the store to pick up groceries and so forth – suddenly confront notable activity up ahead. It is marked by a detectable and more-than-usual police presence, with warning signs/signals and a clear imperative directing motorists to slow down and exit.
Directly into a DUI checkpoint.
Readers know what that is. A checkpoint – sometimes also termed a sobriety checkpoint or DUI roadblock – is a predetermined enforcement event. Law enforcers in Colorado and spanning the country routinely laud the use and alleged effectiveness of checkpoints in identifying and taking drunk drivers off the road.
Drivers often harbor a different view. Legions of detained motorists underscore the sudden intrusion and linked confusion spawned by roadblocks. And they often question the legality of checkpoints.
DUI checkpoints: legal in Colorado?
Notably, drunk driving checkpoints are not uniformly sanctioned across the country. In fact, a sizable minority of states deem them unlawful and prohibit their operation.
Colorado takes a different view. Law enforcers routinely set up roadblocks across the state pursuant to the judicial view that such operations are lawful under both federal and Colorado law.
In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on the matter, ruling that the usual “probable cause” and “reasonableness” standards relevant to a lawful detention/search and seizure can be suspended where checkpoints are concerned.
The reason: a balancing analysis between the temporary inconvenience caused a motorist and the need to ensure public safety tilts toward the latter and permits police action.
Thus, Colorado law enforcers confidently set up and administer roadblocks, knowing that such tools generally command strong legal backing.
A key word in that preceding sentence is “generally,” because, notwithstanding the legal support underpinning checkpoints, such initiatives must still be carried out in a neutral and reasonable way. An in-depth overview of the constitutional balancing test and subsequent roadblock operation stresses that “the Supreme Court’s general approval of sobriety checkpoints doesn’t mean every detention at such a checkpoint is lawful.”
What unfolds at a given formalized DUI stop is thus sometimes questioned and becomes a top-tier contention in a motorist’s allegation of an unlawful encounter and outcome.
Motorists’ rights at sobriety check stops
Many Colorado drivers might not be reasonably aware that they command a number of significant legal rights when detained at a DUI checkpoint.
For starters, they can exercise their constitutional right to not communicate with police officers absent an opportunity to first speak with an attorney. They do not have to submit to roadside field sobriety tests, which can be onerously challenging even for persons who haven’t had a drop of alcohol. And they don’t have to suffer a vehicle search or material intrusion on their time when law enforcers lack any evidence of impairment or criminal conduct.
Engagement at a DUI checkpoint can be an unnerving experience that spawns legally questionable results for a Colorado motorist. Questions or concerns can be directed to a proven and empathetic legal defense team.