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DUI Checkpoints in Colorado

By Peters & Nolan, LLC on June 21, 2013

Law enforcement agencies in Mesa County often operate DUI Checkpoints during County Jam weekend.  In this blog post, we will explain what a DUI checkpoint is, the legal issues involved in DUI checkpoints, and what you may do if you encounter one.

Over the years, the attorneys at Peters & Nolan, LLC have successfully litigated the legality of DUI Checkpoints.  Recently, Andrew Nolan obtained court orders suppressing all evidence in two separate DUI checkpoint cases resulting in the dismissal of those cases.  In addition to the successful litigation of checkpoint cases, the Grand Junction drunk driving defense lawyers at Peters & Nolan are experienced and highly qualified to litigate all aspects of a DUI case from driver’s license hearings through trial and appeal.  DUI cases handled by Peters & Nolan also include Vehicular Homicide, Vehicular Assault, and Habitual Traffic Offender charges.

What is a DUI Checkpoint?

A DUI or sobriety checkpoint allows police to contact motorists at a specific location to briefly stop them and look for signs of intoxication.   Typically, the police use signs that indicate there is a DUI checkpoint ahead, then traffic cones and police officers to direct traffic into the checkpoint area itself.  There are usually a number of officers contacting drivers in the checkpoint area.

DUI checkpoints are subject to strict constitutional requirements because, typically, other types of police checkpoints have been found to be unconstitutional. However, the courts have found that the importance of deterring and detecting DUI driving outweighs the motoring public’s right to be free from the type of intrusion which takes place at a DUI checkpoint.

In order for the DUI checkpoint to be lawful, however, the checkpoint must be reasonable.  Courts have required that the police must limit the intrusion to a brief amount of time and may only inquire with drivers about whether they’ve been drinking (or taking drugs, smoking marijuana, etc.).  They cannot check your registration, insurance, or ask to search you or your vehicle.  Specifically, the officer should only ask to see your driver’s license and ask if you’ve had anything to drink/ smoke.  If they don’t observe any indication of DUI, the driver must be allowed to proceed on.  If the police develop what is called “reasonable suspicion” – a reasonable belief (not just a hunch) that the driver is DUI – then the driver may be legally detained and a DUI investigation may be conducted.

Courts have also required the police to publish the fact that a checkpoint will be operated during a specific time period – such as Country Jam weekend.  In addition, signage warning motorists of a DUI checkpoint ahead has been found to be an important factor in determining the legality of a checkpoint.

A DUI checkpoint cannot be an unavoidable trap.  In other words, there must be a route available to drivers to avoid the checkpoint should they choose to do so.  Keep in mind that if you decide to take such an alternate route to avoid a checkpoint, the police may follow you.  They cannot pull you over simply because you avoided the checkpoint; however, if the officer sees you commit a traffic violation (or says you committed a traffic violation) you may be stopped.

Finally, in order for a checkpoint to be lawful, the police must stop all vehicles coming through or follow a specific pattern (ie, every third car).  The bottom line is that the legality of a checkpoint depends on the police having no independent discretion of who gets stopped.

What you can do if you encounter a DUI checkpoint?

  • If you see a sign that says “DUI Checkpoint Ahead” or “Sobriety Checkpoint Ahead” you may look for an alternate route.  Avoid making sudden movements and comply with ALL traffic laws because, as stated above, a police officer may be watching you and looking for a reason to stop you.
  • If you decide to proceed into the checkpoint, watch for officers directing traffic and DRIVE SAFELY.  Be prepared to provide your driver’s license.  Do not admit to drinking or smoking anything.  If the officer requests permission to search you or your car, politely decline.  If the officer asks you to perform roadside sobriety tests, you don’t have to do so.  Refusing roadsides has no impact on your driver’s license.  Keep in mind, however, that a refusal to do roadsides may be admissible against you at trial.
  • If you are arrested you must do either a breath test or a blood test.  If you refuse to do one or the other, or you fail to cooperate in the completion of one of these chemical tests, your license may be revoked for a year.  In addition, evidence of a refusal may be admissible against you at trial.
  • Your right to remain silent and right to an attorney does not allow you to refuse a chemical test.  However, other than choosing a test, you do not have to answer any questions posed by the police.  Your best choice is to exercise your right to remain silent.  Recently the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that in order for a person to exercise his or her right to remain silent the person must SAY SO.  In other words, if you just sit there silently refusing to answer questions, your silence may be used against you as incriminating evidence.  You must tell the police that you are exercising your right to remain silent in order to avoid this.

Your best choice for avoiding a DUI is to avoid drinking and driving or driving while under the influence of any substance.  Colorado DUI laws are among the most stringent in the country and if charged you will need the most experienced and qualified attorney to represent you.

If you are charged with DUI – CALL PETERS & NOLAN at (970) 243-HELP (4357) immediately.  (NOTE: you may have only 7 days from the date of your arrest to take measures to save your driver’s license so do not delay calling a lawyer).

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Peters & Nolan, LLC is your ideal source for high quality legal representation throughout the state of Colorado. Known for being personable and responsive, attorneys Andrew J. Peters and Andrew Nolan are aggressive trial lawyers with an excellent record of trying and settling cases in criminal defense, DUI/DWAI and personal injury.

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