DUI sobriety checkpoints or roadblocks are become more and more popular in Colorado as a way for police to make DUI arrests, especially during weekends and holidays. You may have seen road signs that read “The Heat is On” or “100 Days of Heat”. This is a campaign used by the Colorado State Highway Patrol throughout the year and in conjunction with the local law enforcement and CDOT to target drunk drivers. The majority of the enforcement is conducted during the holidays and weekends and usually involves DUI sobriety checkpoint or roadblocks.
The United States Supreme Court has deemed DUI checkpoints to be a legal method for screening drivers for possible signs of intoxication. The Supreme Court also said, however, that strict procedural guidelines must be followed by the police in order to make the roadblock legal. If the police fail to operate the DUI sobriety checkpoint in accordance with the legal standards set forth by the Supreme Court in the case of Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), any DUI arrests made while conducting an illegal DUI checkpoint can result in the DUI charges eventually being dismissed.
At a DUI checkpoint, 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. At this point, the police officer may arrest a driver for DUI if he or she believes the driver is under the influence of alcohol.
When operating a DUI checkpoint, the police are required, at a minimum, to adhere to the follow procedures:
- The DUI checkpoint must be conducted at a specific location for a limited amount of time so as to impose minimal inconvenience to drivers.
- All vehicles must be stopped in a consistent and non-discriminatory manner. For example, the police must choose whether they want to stop every car, every other car or every third car, etc. Once the police choose their method, they must document the system for stopping the vehicles and speaking with the drivers. The police may only change their system when there is a legitimate reason to do so such as a change in weather conditions or a significant build up in traffic. If the police do change the stopping method, they must document the time and reason for the change and they must specify the new method for stopping vehicles.
- The DUI checkpoint should be adequately marked and a signs or devices should be placed to provide advance warning of the DUI checkpoint and they should also advise drivers of why they are being stopped.
- A sworn, uniformed officer should be assigned to provide on-site supervision of the checkpoint operation and the checkpoint should be staffed by a sufficient number of uniformed police officers to assure a safe and efficient operation, based on traffic volume, roadway size and the type of location.
- The police should not attempt to stop a driver who lawfully attempts to avoid the DUI checkpoint by turning around or turning off the highway prior to reaching the checkpoint, unless that driver commits a traffic infraction by doing so.
If police fail to comply with any of the above-listed checkpoint rules, the courts will find that the checkpoint was illegally operated, and DUI charges related to the sobriety checkpoint may be reduced, if not thrown out of court altogether.