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Colorado DUI Checkpoints

DUI sobriety checkpoints, or roadblocks, are frequently used in the Denver, Colorado area to find people driving under the influence. Drivers are forced to come to a stop and briefly speak with police on the scene. If the police detect any signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, slow motor skills, or the smell of alcohol, then the driver will be asked to exit the vehicle and perform field sobriety tests and a blood alcohol test. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has established guidelines for law enforcement agencies to follow. CDOT has stated that “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.”

The United States Supreme Court has held that sobriety roadblocks do not violate a driver’s rights under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. Normally such a stop would be considered an improper “seizure” of the person driving, and would therefore be unconstitutional. However, in Michigan Department of State Police vs. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), the Supreme Court held that the importance of reducing highway fatalities outweighs the negative consequence of intruding upon the driver’s liberty.

The Supreme Court also said, however, that procedural guidelines must be followed by the police in order to make the roadblock constitutional. For example, there must be a non-discriminate method of stopping the vehicles. See Delaware vs. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 (1979). In other words, the police can not just randomly pick a car here and there to stop. The police must treat all vehicles the same. They can do this by stopping every car, stopping every other car, or every third car, and so on. This procedure should be established by the police before the roadblock begins and should be included in the administrative order authorizing the use of the DUI checkpoint.

The procedure that the police establish for stopping vehicles can be changed in the midst of the checkpoint’s operation, so long as all vehicles are treated uniformly under the revised procedure also. See United States vs. Prichard, 645 F2d 854 (1981). If the police do change the sequence for stopping vehicles – for example, they go from stopping every vehicle to stopping every third vehicle – then they must document the reason for changing the procedure. Changes in the checkpoint procedure can happen when traffic is getting backed up, there is inclement weather, etc.

These are some of the issues that your attorney must examine if your DUI charge arose from a stop at a sobriety checkpoint. As always, if the stop of your vehicle was unconstitutional, then any evidence against you should be suppressed by the court, and your case dismissed.