Colin McCallin Nov. 15, 2010

The Colorado Department of Revenue keeps finding new and interesting ways to hassle motorists. One of the more recent examples of this is their refusal to protect drivers’ Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. Say “Danny Driver” gets stopped in his car by a police officer. Let’s also say that Danny is pulled over solely because he is a black man driving around in a nice neighborhood. While the officer is talking to Danny, he suspects Danny is under the influence of alcohol and arrests him for DUI.

The law in the United States and in Colorado would say that this stop of Danny is illegal, because it violates the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects individual citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, i.e. law enforcement officers. Cops need to have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that a person has committed a crime or is about to commit a crime before they can conduct a traffic stop. Racial profiling is clearly not a legally valid reason to stop a car. So when Danny’s case gets to court, any evidence obtained from this illegal stop will be suppressed and his DUI case will be dismissed. This doctrine is referred to as the Exclusionary Rule by courts, and its purpose is to discourage abusive and illegal police procedures.

What about Danny’s license? He is entitled to a hearing on whether or not his license should be revoked. The DMV will surely take the unjust nature of Danny’s case into consideration when determining whether or not he should lose his license, right? WRONG! Only in the last year, Colorado DMV hearing officers have begun to rule that Fourth Amendment considerations do not apply to license revocation hearings. This means that, even if a police officer has absolutely no basis to pull a guy like Danny over, Danny will lose his license simply because he was stopped despite the fact that the courts will rule that stop illegal!

As mentioned earlier, this is a recent practice of the DMV. Why are they doing this now? An obvious theory is that by doing this, they will revoke more licenses, which in turn will generate substantial revenue from reinstatement fees. Perhaps it makes them look good politically; i.e. that they are cracking down on law-breaking motorists.

Whatever the rationale, attorneys are in the process of appealing these bogus revocations, because fortunately the hearing officers’ decisions are subject to review by the Colorado Courts. We can only hope that these injustices get corrected by remembering that the Constitution of the United States is not something that can be conveniently forgotten while the rights of citizens are being violated.

Former District Attorney Colin McCallin is a Denver Criminal Defense Lawyer that fights to protect the rights of Coloradans.