There are a few different ways that a police officer can make contact with you without a warrant. In the case of DUI’s there are three categories that an initial stop must fall under in order to be a valid stop in the eyes of the law.
The first category is based upon probable cause. The Colorado DUI Benchbook states
“to constitute a valid stop based on probable cause, sufficient facts and circumstances must have been known to the officer at the time of the stop to cause a person of reasonable caution to believe that an offense had been or was being committed by the defendant.”
In the case of a DUI, the reason for stopping could be weaving or speeding, or an improper lane change. Any of these things can be used as probable cause for an initial stop and then further lead the officer to find additional evidence for a DUI such as an odor of alcohol, bloodshot or watery eyes, etc.
To state that an officer had probable cause is to state that a reasonable person with the same knowledge that the officer had would come to the same conclusions. Probable cause is a fact-specific inquiry; it must be based off known facts. For example, if an officer clocks you speeding they have evidence of the fact that you were speeding. Officers can’t pull you over because it looks like you could be going too fast, they need to have the knowledge that you were in fact speeding. If the stop does develop into a DUI, the initial reason for the stop does not need to be based off of an alcohol-related driving incident. There are other factors once a stop is made that can lead the officer to believe that alcohol is involved. It is not against your rights to be stopped for a non-alcohol related offense. However, being stopped in this kind of situation can very easily turns into a DUI.
The second category of stops is classified an initial stop as an investigatory stop. This kind of stop is an “intermediate form of police intrusion which is authorized to occur on less than probable cause in narrowly defined circumstances” according to the Colorado DUI Benchbook. This sounds a lot like well, police can do whatever they want as long as they have good reason. This is true in certain situations but not all. Due to the case law of Stone v. People, 485 P.2d 495 (Colo. 1971) and, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed. 2d 889 (1968) there are three prongs that must be met in order for a stop to be considered investigatory in nature.
- 1. The officer must have had an articulable and specific basis in fact for suspecting that criminal activity had occurred or was about to take place;
- In determining this, the court looks at the facts and tries to determine if a reasonable person would come to the same conclusion with the same knowledge.
- However, due to officers training and experience, an officer is allowed to make inferences that a normal, untrained person might not necessarily make.
- There are a list of factors that court must take into consideration when determining if a police officer had reasonable suspicion. Some are but not limited to; the size of space, the number of people in one area, description of the person suspected of a crime, if the officer has talked to other officers, etc.
- Reasonable suspicion is only valid if it is made before the stop begins; information learned after a stop or through a chase does not constitute reasonable suspicion.
- Evading Police: Running from the police by itself does not count as reasonable suspicion on its own. Neither does actions taken to avoid the police by itself amount to reasonable suspicion. However, flight from a police officer may constitute reasonable suspicion when combined with officer’s knowledge connecting that person to a crime. For example, if an officer stops you and starts asking you questions and you flee because you don’t want to answer them or incriminate yourself, this would be grounds for reasonable suspicion.
- 2. The purpose of the intrusion must have been reasonable;
- In determining this second prong a trial court must look at two things;
- The officer’s actual purpose in making the search
- Whether this purpose was reasonable
For example, an officer can’t stop you for speeding and then inquire about drug trafficking that would be unreasonable and not the initial intent of his stop. However, if an officer follows you for five or six blocks and notices that you are weaving in and out of a lane he can stop you for reasonable suspicion that you might be drunk even if you have not broken any other traffic laws.
- 3. The scope and character of the intrusion must have been reasonably related to its purpose.
- This relates to what the officer can and can’t ask you at the time of a stop. For example, because traffic stops are usually to investigate possible drunk drivers or to allow someone to explain their driving, the questioning that is allowed in a routine traffic stop is limited to asking for someone’s identification and to explain their driving behavior, this is the scope of a traffic stop. From there, the officer can make more observations and questions if it appears you might be intoxicated but they can’t just start questioning you on an unrelated offense.
- Another example would be if the officer asked you to get out of your car and walk to the rear of the vehicle. This can be reasonable due to officer safety and is not considered a search. It is reasonable for an officer to observe your behavior as you walk to the back of the vehicle which could lead to further observations of a crime occurring such as a DUI.
- Once the reason for the stop has been determined (for example, if the person was found to not be intoxicated during a traffic stop) the officer no longer has reason to hold or detain any person, they no longer even have the right to ask for identifying information.
The third category of an initial stop is at checkpoints or roadblocks. DUI checkpoints are constitutionally valid if;
- they are operated at a fixed point pursuant to guidelines established in advance by supervisory personnel,
- they are operated for a reasonable period of time,
- all drivers passing through the checkpoint are briefly stopped and briefly examined for signs of intoxication,
- the objective and subjective intrusion on law-abiding motorists is minimal,
- the checkpoint stops are at least minimally effective in stopping drunk drivers and discouraging others from drinking and driving.
Although this kind of stop is brief, it is identified as a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The reason it is still allowed is because of the state’s interest in eradicating drunk driving. They have been allowed due to the fact that the Supreme Court does not find them incredibly intrusive, but extremely effective in eradicating drunk driving. Although it is considered a seizure, the length of time does not classify it as unreasonable.
All of these bullet points have been taken out of the Colorado DUI Benchbook, which judges use as a tool in order to determine how to apply the law to all of these different cases. Being arrested for a DUI is a complicated procedure. Contact your attorney to see if any of these things could be an issue in your case. Pay attention to what is going on around you on the road and know your rights, it could save you in the end. This is not legal advice, contact us to discuss your unique case.
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By Shannon Lynch