The police cannot pull you over whenever they want. They need a reason. Stopping you without cause violates your right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. As a result, unlawful police stops often provide a winning defense for many people charged with DUI in Colorado.
Exploring your best DUI defenses with an experienced and knowledgeable Colorado criminal charges defense lawyer you can trust is vital to a successful outcome. In Colorado, Mark S. Rubinstein is an award-winning DUI defense lawyer with an outstanding reputation for treating his clients with care and compassion while aggressively representing their best interests.
Unlawful Police Stops As DUI Defense
Article II § 7 of the Colorado Constitution lists the rights the people in Colorado enjoy. This section declares that everyone’s persons, papers, homes, and effects must remain free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Section 7 is similar to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees similar rights. However, courts have struggled for a long time to define what constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure.
Courts have said that an unreasonable search and seizure occurs when a police officer invades a person’s right to privacy without justification. The police need objective evidence that the person committed a crime to justify invading someone’s privacy.
Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause Standards
Courts have said that the police must have more proof as the level of intrusion increases. A police officer can stop you for a motor vehicle infraction based on the very low standard of reasonable suspicion that you committed, are committing, or are about to commit a crime. However, the officer cannot arrest you unless the evidence rises to a somewhat higher standard. To arrest you, an officer needs probable cause to believe that you committed a crime.
But what is meant by probable cause? The simplest way to think of probable cause is the amount of evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the arrestee committed a crime. The probable cause standard necessary for an arrest falls far short of the standard of evidence known as beyond a reasonable doubt—which is required to convict someone of a crime.
The U.S. Supreme Court developed a remedy for arrestees if the police violate their right to be free from unreasonable searches. The remedy is simple. Judges may suppress all evidence seized by the police from an unlawful intrusion into a citizen’s freedom. Let’s discuss these concepts further.
What Does Suppression of the Evidence Mean?
Under unlawful police stop laws, the term suppression means the prosecutor cannot use evidence that was obtained through an unlawful stop or search. Courts use the term “fruit of the poisonous tree” to describe evidence the police found as a result of their illegal intrusion. Some examples might help clarify this point.
Suppose the police pull you over because they say you ran a red light. The officer has reasonable suspicion because the officer saw you run the red light (even if it was accidental). The officer does not violate your rights by doing this.
Again, suppose you run a red light, and a police officer stops you. This time, the officer orders you out of the car to perform standardized field sobriety testing (SFST) because the officer says there is an odor of alcohol coming from your breath. You then fail the SFST, and the officer arrests you for DUI. Under these circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop you for a motor vehicle violation. Then, the officer had probable cause to arrest you for DUI after smelling alcohol and observing SFST failures. This evidence might not be enough to convict you, but it is enough to charge you with DUI.
Once again, suppose a police officer pulls you over for a red light infraction. The officer says that there is a smell of alcohol coming from your breath. You take and fail field sobriety tests, and the officer places you under arrest. While you are being booked, you admit you had five drinks in an hour while at a bar. In court, your lawyer files a motion to suppress your admissions because the video collected from the police car’s dashboard camera shows that you did not run the red light as the officer stated. In other words, the entire basis for the stop was invalid.
The judge could suppress (throw out) any evidence derived after the stop because you did not commit any driving infraction, and the stop was therefore illegal. Under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, the judge must suppress the officer’s observations concerning the smell of alcohol, your performance on the SFST, and your admission to having five drinks in an hour before driving. This would leave the prosecutor with no evidence upon which to pursue your DUI charge. This is how unlawful police stops for DUI can result in a dismissal of your case.
Reasons for DUI Stops
There are several reasons why police officers can stop you for suspected DUI. Many DUI stops happen when a police officer observes suspicious driving. Some of these reasons include:
- Committing a traffic violation (like the examples above);
- Weaving all over the road;
- Failing to stay in marked lanes;
- Erratic driving, like braking and accelerating for no apparent reason;
- Driving at night without lights on;
- Driving on the wrong side of the road;
- Stopping on the road for no reason; and
- Not going even though you have a green light.
There are other potential reasons why the police can stop you for DUI.
DUI checkpoints allow police to investigate people driving under the influence. There are strict regulations police must follow to legally operate a sobriety checkpoint. If they do not follow the rules, a judge could suppress all evidence seized at the checkpoint.
The regulations do not give a police officer authority to chase someone who turned around to avoid the checkpoint unless that person violated the law. Additionally, the police cannot randomly stop cars as they come through. They must use a pattern—like stopping every other car—that takes the discretion out of their hands.
Unlawful Police Stops for DUI Can Help You Win Your DUI Case
DUI charges can lead to jail, fines, license suspension, and a huge increase in insurance costs. Having an attorney who knows how to beat a DUI case in Colorado is the best way you can fight for your rights. Contact our attorney at Mark S. Rubinstein, P.C. today if you have a DUI charge. Colorado DUI attorney Mark S. Rubinstein understands that knowledge and experience is necessary in a lawyer, but so is hard work. Attorney Rubinstein’s tireless work ethic has helped numerous clients facing long odds get the result they hoped for.