Monday, June 30, 2014

Legislative Cure Urged by Defense Bar Saves Colorado Drivers from Bizarre CO Supreme Court Decision

Today, in Francen v. Dept. of Revenue and Hanson v. Dept. of Revenue, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that, prior to a legislative cure in the 2013 session of the General Assembly, police could stop vehicles without reasonable suspicion or probable cause and still have the evidence following the stop used against them in driver's license revocation proceedings.  In both cases, the drivers challenged their license revocations following DMV hearings where they challenged the constitutional basis for the vehicle stops.  In Francen, the District Court reversed the revocation and held that the officer conducting the stop did not have reasonable, articulable suspicion of a violation of the law, as required by the landmark SCOTUS case of Terry v. Ohio and its companion Colorado case, Stone v. People.  That ruling was overturned by the Colorado Court of Appeals which ruled in both Francen and Hanson that the basis for a vehicle stop or seizure of a driving suspect (in Hanson, the driver was seized from inside his home and was not stopped in his vehicle on the road) was not relevant to a driver's license revocation hearing--the only relevant issue vis-a-vis probable cause was whether the officer had probable cause to believe that the driver was impaired by alcohol, drugs or both.  As the result of the COA rulings, the Colorado General Assembly changed the Expressed Consent statute to specifically allow the basis for the motor vehicle stop to be challenged as part of any EC revocation appeal.  But for this legislative "cure", the result of today's CO Supreme Court ruling would be that officers could stop drivers in Colorado without any legal basis and, if the officer was able to develop probable cause of impairment following the stop, that driver could lose his/her license.

In criminal cases, in order to constitutionally justify the temporary detention of an individual for investigation, an officer must have reasonable, articulable facts at hand that would lead an ordinary officer to suspect that criminal activity was occurring.  In other words, police in the U.S. cannot just stop a person on a hunch, whim or "fishing expedition"--there must be a good reason for them to infringe on someone's right to move about freely.  If an officer fails to have "reasonable suspicion" when stopping someone, any evidence that is obtained following such an illegal stop is inadmissible against the accused.  For some strange and unexplained reason, both the Colorado Court of Appeals and Supreme Court don't have a problem with baseless police stops, at least within the confines of people losing their ability to legally drive in Colorado.  Today's rulings beg the question as to why it's okay for police to conduct baseless stops to revoke people's driver's licenses, but not to charge them with DUI/DWAI?  That's what today's decisions essential mean.

The legislative "cure" enacted in 2013 was the direct result of Colorado defense attorneys taking the problem directly to our elected officials and giving them the information and education necessary to restore fairness and justice to the driving revocation process.  When confronted with an impaired driving prosecution and/or revocation, it is important to have experienced, knowledgeable legal representation.

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