With over 23,000 miles of highway in Colorado, Colorado law enforcement officers conduct traffic stops regularly to keep our roads safe. When pulled over by police, you are not automatically guilty of anything. But an officer can detain or cite you. This legal principle is probable cause.
Police must have reasonable suspicion to pull you over. A cause for reasonable suspicion is anything suggesting a driver is chemically impaired by alcohol or other mind-altering substances.
Thus, many traffic stops occur simply because an officer wants to see if their reasonable suspicion can be confirmed. Legally speaking, reasonable suspicion only requires the officer who performs the stop to have “articulable facts” that the driver is doing something criminal.
Your Rights if You’re Pulled Over by Police
When pulled over by police in Colorado, you should generally assume the officer wants to collect evidence about your potential wrongdoing. Therefore, it’s extremely important to understand your rights and responsibilities under the law.
When pulled over by police, the officer will ask you for your vehicle registration and your driver license. You must provide these.
Afterwards, the officer may ask you to step out of your vehicle. Calmly obey commands like this.
The police officer may ask you other questions:
- Where are you going?
- Have you been drinking?
- Have you recently used any drugs?
- Do you have any weapons in your car?
The Fifth Amendment establishes your right to be silent and refuse self-incrimination. Therefore, when you are pulled over by police you are not obligated to provide any information outside of your name, driver license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance.
NOTE: If you are a passenger you are not required to hand over any information, including your identification.
- Order you to show your driver’s license, registration, and insurance card.
- Order you to get out of your vehicle.
- Search your car without a warrant, reasonable suspicion, or your permission.
- Force or coerce you into answering questions.
- Force you to take any sobriety tests (unless you are arrested).
- Ask about your immigration status
Your Immigration Status
Only an immigration enforcement officer can inquire about your immigration status. If you are stopped by an immigration officer, you must show your identification when asked. However, you are still protected by the Fifth Amendment. So do not have to answer any questions without a lawyer.
It is strongly recommended that you say as little as possible until you have an attorney present.
Breath & Field Sobriety Tests
Many times, traffic stops occur because an officer suspects the driver is impaired. Sometimes the officer may ask you to take a breath test even if they originally pulled you over for a different reason. This on-the-spot test is called a preliminary breath test.
If you are at least 21 years old, you are not required to take a preliminary breath test. You have the right to refuse it without consequences.
However, there are a number of reasons why you may agree to take the test when you are pulled over by police. Let’s take a look.
Should I Take the Test or Refuse It?
If you have not been drinking, a breath test should reflect that, and the officer is more likely to let you go without arrest. A reading of .05% BAC and under should exonerate you.
Ideally, you want to avoid an arrest when you’re pulled over. An arrest sets off a serious legal process you are forced to undergo.
Refusing the test may prompt the officer to arrest you. The officer only needs probable cause to arrest you.
Probable cause is loosely defined as visible evidence that a crime has taken place,
or suspicion thereof that includes valid, logical reasons.
Challenge Probable Cause in Court
If you are arrested, you no longer have the right to refuse a breath or blood test without serious legal consequences. Under Colorado’s Express Consent law, you must comply with post-arrest chemical tests if you are arrested for:
- DUI – driving under the influence – BAC at or above .08%
- DWAI – driving while ability impaired – BAC between .05% – .08%
- UDD – underage drinking and driving
Many Colorado DUI lawyers agree, unless you are under 21 or you suspect that your BAC is higher than .05%, it may be better to politely refuse the preliminary breath test and take your chances of being arrested.
Even if you are arrested, the long-term outcome may still be in your favor for taking this path.
Vehicle Searches When Pulled Over by Police
In Colorado, police need a warrant to search your vehicle. A warrant is only obtained through a court order.
However, there are circumstances in which officers can search you or your vehicle without a warrant. So it’s important to understand what these are so police cannot take advantage of you.
Consent to Search
First, police can search your car is if there is evidence in open view. This can be a beer bottle, drug paraphernalia, or a weapon.
A police officer cannot search your property on a whim. However, they may try to pressure you into a search with statements like:
- It would be better for you to say yes.
- We just want to make sure you’re clean.
Now, if an officer asks to take a look in your car and you agree, you have given them consent to search. Therefore, that means the officer now has the legal authority to search your vehicle top-to-bottom.
REMEMBER: You should not consent to a search without a warrant when you are pulled over by police.
When Am I Free to Go?
When you are pulled over by police, you have the right to ask to leave if you have provided the required information and the officer is not actively writing a citation. Politely ask if you are free to go.
If the officer does not have cause to arrest or cite you with a violation then, by law, they must let you leave.
Tips If You’re Pulled Over by Police
Always be Polite.
Being rude or hostile with police will make your situation worse.
Don’t Make Small Talk.
Do not chat with the police officer. You may inadvertently relinquish additional information. Police do their best to collect evidence to build a case against you. Anything you say to them will be used for that purpose no matter the tone of the conversation.
Comply to Reasonable Requests.
Be courteous with the officer and comply with reasonable requests. This may improve your situation.
Consequences of Drunk Driving
While you should know your rights when you’re pulled over by police, we always encourage you to drive sober. That is the best way to avoid a DUI.
Driving while impaired is one of the most dangerous, and common, causes of motor vehicle accidents in the United States. In 2017, the Colorado State Patrol recorded 504 crashes involving impaired drivers that resulted in injuries or fatalities.
Thus, impaired driving incurs harsh penalties.
For the first offense, a DUI remains a misdemeanor, but further violations result in more severe consequences.
First-time DUI penalties can be:
- 5 days to a year in jail
- A $1,000 fine
- 9-month suspension of a drivers’ license
- 96 hours community service
- Alcohol remediation education
A Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher is grounds for a DUI charge. However, even with a lower BAC reading, or even no test, police can still charge you with a DWAI. This is a criminal offense.
DWAI penalties can include:
- 2 to 180 days in jail
- A $500 fine
- 8 points against your license
- Up to 48 hours of community service
Additional DUIs result in more severe penalties, such as years of jail time, tens of thousands of dollars in fines and court fees, and permanent revocation of your license.
If you are involved in an accident while driving under the influence, you can be charged with other crimes ranging from reckless driving to vehicular manslaughter.
The bottom line: don’t drink and drive.
Compassionate DUI Attorneys
At Robinson & Henry, we know how scary and disorienting it can be to be pulled over by police. The Colorado legal system is harsh and unforgiving to DUI and reckless drivers. Having a solid DUI attorney is your best bet to go through this journey unscathed.
If you are charged with a Colorado DUI, DUI per se, DWAI, or UDD, we can help you move forward with as little damage to your finances or driving privileges as possible.
We understand mistakes happen. It’s our job to do what is in your best interest, not the court’s.
If you are served with a notice of revocation after a DUI charge, you only have seven days to request a hearing with the Department of Motor Vehicles. So don’t waste any time.
Schedule your free consultation with one of our criminal defense attorneys online or call (303) 688-0944.
Don’t let an unfortunate incident cost you your ability to drive in Colorado. Let us represent you at any criminal or DMV license revocation hearing.