Colorado DUI Sobriety Checkpoints

What are my rights at a Colorado DUI mobile checkpoint?

Under the United States Constitution, the police must have probable cause before they can stop a motorist. Otherwise, the traffic stop is an unreasonable “seizure” prohibited by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Probable cause for a Colorado traffic stop exists when an officer observes:

  • a traffic violation,
  • a defect in the vehicle that affects safety, or
  • a driving pattern that indicates that the driver may be intoxicated.

The United States Supreme Court has recognized, however, that drunk and drugged driving are significant threats to public safety. As a result, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that DUI checkpoints are an exception to the probable cause rule as long as they are fair and are not overly intrusive.1

To help you better understand your rights before, during and after a Colorado DUI checkpoint, our Colorado DUI defense lawyers discuss the following, below:

1. When is a Colorado sobriety checkpoint illegal?

Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) guidelines for sobriety checkpoints state that to be constitutional a DUI roadblock should:

  • pose as little inconvenience as possible to drivers,
  • have a consistent, non-discriminatory procedure for choosing which vehicles to stop -- for example, every third car,
  • give adequate warning that a driver is approaching a checkpoint,
  • be adequately staffed and supervised,
  • be in a safe location, and
  • be publicized in advance.

The failure to comply strictly with CDOT guidelines does not automatically make a sobriety checkpoint illegal. It all depends on the number of guidelines violated and the seriousness of the non-compliance.

Violations that might make a Colorado DUI roadblock unconstitutional include:

  • The department had no official procedures for roadblocks.
  • The roadblock created a traffic hazard.
  • The method for selecting which cars to stop was not neutral.
  • There was inadequate advance warning of the mobile checkpoint.
  • There were inadequate signs of official authority (uniformed officers, marked police vehicles, etc).
  • There was no convenient and reasonable procedure for DUI breath testing.
  • There was no drug recognition expert (DRE) on site.
  • The officers supervising the checkpoint were not adequately briefed.
  • There was not enough advance publicity to notify drivers of upcoming DUI sobriety checks.

2. What happens at a Colorado DUI checkpoint?

You can find advance notice of upcoming Colorado sobriety checkpoints on the Colorado Department of Transportation's website. These often take place during weekends and holidays that involve celebrations with alcohol, such as:

  • St. Patrick's Day,
  • The Fourth of July, and
  • New Year's Eve.

You should be given plenty of advance warning when you approach a Colorado sobriety roadblock. The advance warning will usually take the form of:

  • Warning signs,
  • Lights,
  • Uniformed officers, and
  • Marked police cars.

The agency operating the checkpoint will usually section off part of the road. This will force traffic to merge into one or two lanes. An officer will ask you to roll down the window. The officer will then ask to see your license and registration, which you are legally required to produce.

The check will then proceed like an ordinary traffic stop. The office will try to engage you to see whether:

  • you have difficulty producing your driver's license and registration,
  • you or your car smells of alcohol or marijuana,
  • there is alcohol, drugs or drug paraphernalia in the vehicle, or
  • you show physical signs of intoxication – such as slurred speech, red eyes.

If the officer suspects you are drunk or stoned, a standard DUI investigation may follow.

3. DUI investigation at a sobriety checkpoint

The officer may ask you to step out of the vehicle and take Colorado field sobriety tests (FSTs). He or she may ask you to take a preliminary alcohol screening (“PAS”) breath test.

The FSTs and PAS breath test are optional. You may decline to take them without legal consequence. If you decide to take them, however, the results of the FSTs can be used in court as evidence of impairment. But if you are 21 or over, the PAS is never admissible except to establish whether the officer had probable cause to arrest you on suspicion of DUI or DWAI.

If the officer believes you are intoxicated, he or she can arrest you for:

If you are arrested, the officer will usually require you to take an evidentiary breath alcohol test (EBAT), or an evidentiary blood test. Normally, you will be allowed to choose which test to take. However, if drug use is suspected, you will be required to take a blood, urine or saliva test. And if you are under 21 and the only charge is a violation of Colorado's UDD law, you must take the roadside breath test.

If you refuse to take a chemical test after you are arrested on suspicion of DUI, DUI per se, DWAI or UDD, you face serious consequences, including:

Additionally, your refusal to take a Colorado DUI test can be used as evidence of guilt if your case eventually goes to trial.

4. Can I turn around to avoid a Colorado sobriety checkpoint?

You are legally allowed to turn around to avoid a Colorado DUI roadblock if:

  • You are able to do so safely, and
  • You do not violate any traffic laws in order to do so.

If you violate traffic laws, you can be cited for the violation and questioned about drinking the same way you would during any other traffic stop.

Call us for help…

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If you were arrested at a Colorado sobriety checkpoint, we may be able to help. Our Colorado and Denver DUI attorneys understand that roadblocks can make even sober, competent drivers uncomfortable, leading to arrests of innocent people.

Our caring DUI lawyers defend clients throughout Colorado against charges of DUI, DUI per se, DWAI, UDD and other motor vehicle crimes and infractions.

Please call us if you would like a free consultation regarding your Colorado drunk driving case. We can speak to you over the phone or in person at our convenient Denver home office:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
4047 Tejon Street
Denver, CO 80211
(303) 222-0330

Arrested in Nevada? See our article on Nevada sobriety checkpoints.

Legal references:

  1.   Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz (1990), 496 US 444.

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