What Constitutes Probable Cause for a DUI Stop in Colorado?

Colorado Revised Statute § 16-3-103 establishes that a peace officer can stop any person who is reasonably suspected of committing, having committed, or is about to commit a crime.  If stopped the officer can require that you give your name, address, and identification as well as provide an explanation for your actions.

Reasonable suspicion, while a justification for a traffic stop, it is not enough for an officer to search your vehicle or even make an arrest. To arrest a person or conduct a search of their motor vehicle, the officer will need to have probable cause.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that people have the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, and no warrants can be issued unless there is “probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Simply put, every person has the right to expect that their bodies, homes, vehicles or other personal possessions will not be searched or seized without a valid reason that must be clearly articulated in a warrant signed by a judge or other magistrate.  This valid reason or “probable cause” must be based upon a belief that evidence of a crime may be found in a place or on a person to be searched or seized. Probable cause to arrest is based on the belief that the person being arrested committed a criminal offense.

“Probable cause” is a much tougher standard to prove than “reasonable suspicion.”  While reasonable suspicion can be based on a police officer’s “hunch” that a crime is being committed, Probable cause requires evidence of a crime that an officer must be able to articulate specifically and clearly.

Evidence of probable cause can be based on what an officer sees, hears or smells, information provided by a witness or someone with knowledge of the crime, or a collection of evidence which suggests a crime was committed.

Probable cause becomes a common issue in many driving under the influence (DUI) cases in Colorado. Some people question the justification for their original traffic stop, while several others believe they were arrested without the necessary evidence that a crime had been committed.

Common Causes of DUI Traffic Stops

Keep in mind that a police officer can pull you over under Colorado Revised Statute § 16-3-103 for any violation of a state or local traffic law. Undoubtedly one of the most common causes of DUI stops in Colorado is alleged improper lane usage, occasionally referred to as “lane drifting,” in which a motorist is weaving between lanes.

Some of the other possible reasons a police officer might stop a driver include:

  • Speeding, Colorado Revised Statute § 42-4-1101
  • Reckless Driving, Colorado Revised Statute § 42-4-1401
  • Illegal U-Turn, Colorado Revised Statute § 42-4-902
  • Equipment Violations, Colorado Revised Statute §§ 42-4-201-42-4-239
  • Failure to Obey Traffic Light or Sign, Colorado Revised Statute § 42-4-603
  • Seat Belt Violation, Colorado Revised Statute § 42-4-237
  • Child Restraint Violation, Colorado Revised Statute § 42-4-236
  • Driving Without Registration or With Expired Registration, Colorado Revised Statute § 42-3-103
  • Obstruction of View or Driving Mechanism, Colorado Revised Statute § 42-4-201

So, an initial traffic stop can lead to a vehicle search or even an arrest if probable cause is found.  Keep in mind, that the original reason for the traffic stop must be valid and lawful for a subsequent vehicle search, arrest and DUI investigation to be admissible in court.  The Supreme Court of Colorado has ruled that without the reasonable suspicion required to conduct a vehicle stop, any evidence of a crime obtained as a result of the traffic stop is inadmissible in court.

Probable Cause for Vehicle Searches

While the Fourth Amendment normally requires a search warrant that is signed by a judge or other magistrate, the Supreme Court of the United States has stated that a warrant is not required for an automobile search.

The Court’s ruling states that in the absence of a search warrant, an officer must be able to clearly show that probable cause existed to warrant the search of a vehicle.

Some of the reasons that police officers search vehicles without warrants may include:

  • Evidence of a crime being in plain sight (such as drugs on the vehicle dashboard),
  • Searches that occur immediately after a lawful arrest and within the immediate area of the arrestee. This is done to secure the safety of the arresting officer and to preserve evidence
  • Searches conducted in emergency situations in which evidence may be destroyed or otherwise compromised.

Commonly unknown to many is that police officers can get around the probable cause requirement to search a vehicle.  When someone is the subject of a traffic stop, one of the easiest ways that officers obtain justification for a motor vehicle search is through the consent of the vehicle owner. When this happens, it is crucial that you know that you have the absolute right to refuse to consent to any search of your vehicle.

Contact Attorney Christian A. Schwaner

If you were recently arrested for DUI anywhere in Colorado and believe that the police officer did not have a reasonable suspicion that justified your initial traffic stop or probable cause to arrest or search your vehicle, it is in your best interest to quickly seek legal representation. Christian A. Schwaner, P.C. handles both alcohol and marijuana DUI offenses.

I am a former prosecutor with more than two decades of experience handling criminal cases. I will review your case and help you understand all of your legal options as soon as you call (719) 577-9700 or contact me online to set up a consultation to discuss your defense.