DUI Task Force’ Forming in Denver Area

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A “DUI Task Force” made of seven local law enforcement agencies in the Denver metropolitan area began vigorous patrols July 26, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

The task force will concentrate several groups of officers in a small part of the area, where they will look for drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. The article did not specify how the officers will decide which drivers are intoxicated, but said sobriety checkpoints may be used in future patrols. Local prosecutors have agreed to take cases brought to them by officers outside their jurisdictions.

“We know that any time we put out more officers, we see more DUI arrests,” said Major Steven Powell of the Colorado State Patrol.

Powell may be right, but as Georgia DUI defense attorneys, we know the legality of this sort of targeted enforcement can be questioned. In the 1980s and before, many people questioned whether sobriety checkpoints — in which officers stop cars and check their drivers for intoxication — violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, meaning that generally speaking, law enforcement must have probable cause or a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing before they can pull someone over. But in 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the public good provided by sobriety checkpoints outweighed the Constitutional problems with them, in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz. A few states’ Supreme Courts have decided that the checkpoints are illegal, although unfortunately, Georgia is not one of them. However, there are strict guidelines that law enforcement must obey to make the checkpoint legal. For example, officers must test drivers randomly unless they have a reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated; they may not test people for intoxication just because of race, gender or another aspect of their appearance.

The Denver DUI task force is a “saturation patrol” — that is, they’re just putting extra officers in the streets and instructing them to concentrate on finding DUI violators. This presents no more Fourth Amendment problems than the typical traffic stop — but that doesn’t mean saturation patrols are free of illegal searches and seizure. We’ve all heard of traffic stops for “driving while black” or similar non-infractions, sometimes without even a thin justification like a broken turn signal.

Georgia residents who have been charged with a DUI after that kind of illegal traffic stop should call the Atlanta DUI defense lawyers. A DUI is a serious charge that can affect a person’s life for years to come, in ways many people hadn’t even imagined.