Sobriety checkpoints are frequently used in the Denver area to find people driving under the influence. We all know how annoying the checkpoints/roadblocks can be – especially when you're in a hurry to get to your destination. You are forced to come to a stop and speak with the police officers at the checkpoint. Most folks wonder if checkpoints are actually legal and under what circumstances law enforcement has the right to conduct them. As your Denver criminal defense attorney specializing in DUI's, I can offer some information about sobriety checkpoints.
The United States Supreme Court held that sobriety checkpoints don't violate a driver’s rights under the Fourth Amendment. Checkpoints would normally be considered "improper seizure" of the driver, and would be unconstitutional. However, the Michigan Department of State Police vs. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), the Supreme Court found that the importance of reducing road fatalities outweighs the consequence of impeding the driver’s liberty.
The Supreme Court also said that the police must follow specific procedural checkpoint guidelines in order to make roadblocks constitutional. For instance, they must be non-discriminate in stopping vehicles. This means that the police cannot just randomly pick a car here or there to stop. They must treat all vehicles the same. They can do this by stopping every car, every other car, or every third car, for example. The police have to establish these procedures before the roadblock begins, and those procedures have to be included in the administrative order authorizing the checkpoint.
The established procedure for stopping vehicles can be changed in the midst of the checkpoint’s operation as long as all vehicles are treated uniformly thereafter under the revised procedure. If the police change the procedure for stopping vehicles – for example, they go from stopping every third vehicle to stopping every vehicle – then the reason must be documented.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has established guidelines for law enforcement agencies to follow during DUI checkpoints. Their Checkpoint Manual
states, “The purpose of the checkpoint is to maximize the deterrent effect and increase the perception of 'risk of apprehension' to motorists who would operate a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or other drugs.”
At the checkpoint, if the police detect any signs that you are intoxicated, such as slow motor skills, slurred speech, or the smell of alcohol or marijuana, then you will be asked to exit the vehicle and perform field sobriety tests and a blood alcohol test. To arm you with information you might need in that instance, see our post: Denver Criminal Defense Attorney Advise on What to Do if You are Pulled Over for a DUI
Have you been charged with a DUI from a checkpoint stop and wonder if it was unconstitutional? The Law Office of John Buckley can help you understand the situation and your case. Our mission is to provide our clients with the best possible legal defense through zealous representation. Call us as soon as possible for more information at 303-501-1800.