H. Michael Steinberg has over 32 years experience practicing Colorado criminal law. Mr. Steinberg strives to stay current with the ever changing aspects of criminal law issues and updates resulting in his extensive knowledge of successful criminal defense as well as appellate work. He is also an active member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar Association, the Colorado Trial Lawyer's Association, and the Colorado and Arapahoe Bar Associations.
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Colorado DUI – DUID “Sobriety” Checkpoints On The Increase

The statewide “campaigns” known as sobriety DUI checkpoints to catch alleged drunk drivers is on again this Labor Day 2012. The idea is to “crack down on drinking and driving” but the question is always asked if these stops – not based on bad driving or any other illegal activity – are constitutional.. are they legal?

Unfortunately -yes they are. I have written extensively on Colorado DUI Sobriety Checkpoints and these roadblocks – if conducted properly – will not be struck down…. which begs the question.. If you have been arrested and charged – was YOUR Colorado Sobriety Checkpoint conducted pursuant to the guidelines set out by Colorado law? Always ask a Colorado criminal defense lawyer who practices in this area.

Since Memorial day this year the police have made 2,000 DUI arrests in Colorado utilizing the “sobriety checkpoint.” That is an average of 72 DUI arrests per day in the state.

While the police says their goal is not to make arrests, but rather to send a larger message to the public, that drinking and driving “don’t mix,” the disruption caused by these checkpoints is clear.

Those Who Challenges sobriety checkpoints have argued:

  1. Sobriety checkpoints result in illegal searches and seizures, violating both the state and federal constitution
  2. Law enforcement frequently target minorities, setting up checkpoints in communities with large concentrations of ethnic and racial populations
  3. These tactics are much less effective in arresting drunk drivers than conducting more generalized roving patrols

The State of Colorado Sobriety Checkpoint Law

While Colorado law does not expressly grant police officers the power to conduct sobriety checkpoints, the law does grant them the authority to enforce criminal and traffic laws.

Some courts have in effect held that the intrusion that these checkpoints have on a person’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures is justified by the seriousness of drunk driving and the possible deterrent effect of sobriety checkpoints.

To assess the reasonableness of the search and seizure courts examine and balance the governmental interest justifying the search against the invasion the search entails.

The key to “reasonableness of this violation of the Fourth Amendment determining whether a particular roadside sobriety checkpoint is constitutionally valid. Here they are.

To be reasonable it must be determined whether:

  • Supervisory law enforcement officers make and establish the decision to institute a sobriety checkpoint, the site selection, and the operational procedures to be followed at the checkpoint
  • Field officers have limited discretion in stopping motorists, and rely on a neutral formula for stopping motorists
  • Law enforcement officers take proper and adequate safety precautions and use official vehicles and personnel during the checkpoint
  • Policy making officials make reasonable checkpoint location decisions, based on among other things, a high number of alcohol related accidents and arrests
  • Officers use reasonable judgment in the time and duration of the checkpoint