DUI checkpoints popping up across Denver metro; penalties for conviction can include jail time

DENVER - Authorities across the Denver metro area say they have stepped the frequency of their DUI patrols to ensure this remains the most wonderful time of year.

"We know that people are going to be drinking and driving during the holiday's season," said Colorado State Patrol spokesman, Trooper Nate Reid. "We catch more people over the influence because we have more resources available and we have more people stopping cars."

Jay Tiftickjian is an attorney specializing in DUI cases, and he said drivers charged with a DUI in Clear Creek County can almost expect jail time.

It is a long tradition in Clear Creek County. For a DUI conviction, even a first offense, it's typical to get a five-day jail sentence," said Tiftickjian.

Tiftickjian said Clear Creek isn't the only county with stiff penalties.

"In Denver and Jefferson counties, sometimes if you have a high blood-alcohol level you're looking at jail time," he said.

Tiftickjian said it all comes down to the judge and circumstances.

"A lot of the inconsistencies have to do with the judges themselves, their tendencies, the climate of the county," he said.

According to Colorado law, anyone whose blood-alcohol content is .2 or higher can expect to spend at least 10 days behind bars. People with a .2 blood-alcohol level are more than twice the .08 threshold for DUI in Colorado.

"It's a big surprise to a lot of people," said Tiftickjian. "If you don't want to get caught, don't do it, plain and simple. It doesn't matter where you are."

Whether you're just tired or heavily intoxicated, any sign of erratic driving -- especially late at night -- is enough justification for a police officer to pull you over and further investigate the situation.

A little swerve while reaching for cigarettes in the glove box or failing to fully obey a stop sign are two DUI tip-offs that Jake Johnson, a criminal defense attorney at Denver's DUI Defense Matters, has encountered in the past.

Johnson said he's also seen people charged with DUIs for trying to sleep it off in their cars.

With that in mind, here are a few tips from DUI Defense Matters for navigating the holiday crackdown:

  1. Don't Drink and Drive. It'll be repeated a thousand times during the next week, but seriously, arrange alternate transportation home before you start celebrating -- even if you only plan to have one beer. 
  2. Tune up the Jalopy. Don't leave home with a reason for the cops to pull you over. Make sure all your lights and turn signals are in working order before you head out for the evening, and double check that your registration tags are visible and up to date.
  3. Check in with the Twitterverse. Social media is usually abuzz with the exact location of DUI checkpoints, so it's worth scrolling through Twitter (#checkpoint) to see whether you ought to take a quicker route home. Expect to see a few between now and New Year's Day, especially in Aurora, Denver and Lakewood. That being said, don't try to evade a checkpoint that's right in front of you as it looks suspicious and a police officer will be right on your tail.
  4. Pull Over Safely. From the moment those red-and-blue lights flash behind you, the police officer is noting your every move. Slamming on the brakes, driving along for a mile to stop in a deserted grocery store parking lot, or failing to indicate as you pull over are all noted as signs of your impaired behavior. According to Colorado State Trooper Josh Lewis, officers prefer you to indicate and then safely pull over into the right shoulder as soon as possible. Once stopped, roll down the window a crack and place your hands on the steering wheel so you don't appear threatening.
  5. Don't Be A Chatty Cathy. Although the officer will ask a series of questions as he assesses the situation, simply respond to his questions politely and briefly. The more you say, the more unnecessary clues you give about your current state. Additionally, don't plead that you've "only had a cup of eggnog tonight, officer!" as any admission of alcohol consumption is enough to trigger further questioning and could be held against you at a later time.
  6. Remember Your Rights. If you have been drinking and are worried about how a possible DUI might affect your job, family life, immigration status or social standing, keep in mind that you can refuse a chemical (breath, blood, urine or saliva) test of your blood alcohol content level. You will automatically lose your driver's license, but Colorado law has changed to allow first-time refusers to regain their driving privileges with an ignition-interlock device after 60 days.
  7. Get An Attorney. If nothing goes to plan and you are charged with a DUI, contact a defense attorney immediately. "People don't always realize they only have seven days to take action, to request a hearing to save their license," Johnson said. It's best to choose a lawyer that specializes in drug and alcohol-related driving offenses, but who also has resources in employment, immigration, and family law in case the DUI affects other sections of your life.

The entire purpose of alcohol is to lower inhibitions, Trooper Lewis points out, so people might not recognize that seemingly-harmless decisions can have life-changing consequences. 

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