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Colorado DUI Laws

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Colorado DUI Laws

If you’ve been charged with a DUI, a DUI per se, or a DWAI in Colorado, it’s important to understand what the laws are and how they may personally affect you. By understanding the situation you are in and what the possible consequences could be, you’ll be better equipped to make the correct decisions for your situation. 

It’s important to note that an experienced DUI attorney will be able to help ensure your rights are protected during the legal process, and see to it that important deadlines are met, so it is important to seriously consider calling a lawyer for help. Here’s what you need to know about Colorado’s DUI Laws.

DUI, DUI Per Se and DWAI Definitions

Under Colorado law, there are three offenses a person can be charged with related to drunk driving:

  • Driving Under the Influence – A driver can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) in Colorado if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08 or more. This is determined through blood and breath tests, but there are also other signs that an officer can use as evidence to support a DUI charge. The way the driver drove their vehicle before the police stop, how they behaved during the stop, whether or not the officer can smell alcohol on the breath of the driver, and other things like that can also be used. A DUI is generally a more serious offense than driving while ability impaired.

  • DUI Per Se – Unlike a DUI charge, a DUI per se charge requires a blood or breath test to be proven. A driver can be charged with DUI per se if their BAC is at least 0.08 within two hours of operating a vehicle.

  • Driving While Ability Impaired – Driving while ability impaired (DWAI) is generally a lesser charge than DUI or DUI per se, and typically, drivers with a BAC of at least 0.05 would face a DWAI charge instead of a DUI charge. Any evidence of that driver being incapable of using clear judgement or being physically capable of safely operating a vehicle due to intoxication, can change the outcome of these charges.

These offenses are all typically misdemeanors which means the person charged won’t necessarily face jail time or monetary fines. But, once you factor in a possible loss of driver’s license and a criminal record, the ultimate consequences can be quite expensive and severe.

Penalties in Colorado for DUI and DUI Per Se Convictions

The penalties for a DUI conviction can depend on whether it’s a driver’s first offense or if the driver is a repeat offender. Penalties are more harsh for repeat offenders and that’s because the law is seeking to stop the behavior by making the consequences more severe. 

A 1st offense DUI is a misdemeanor and the penalties can include:

  • Five days to one year in jail.
  • 48 to 96 hours of community service.
  • The suspension of the person’s driver’s license for up to nine months.
  • A fine of between $600 up to $1,000.

It’s important to note that, if the driver has a BAC of 0.15% or higher, they may be designated as a persistent drunk driver, and that means that, even if it’s their first offense, they may be treated as a repeat offender. 

A 2nd offense DUI is also a misdemeanor and the penalties can include:

  • Ten days to one year in jail.
  • 48 to 120 hours of community service.
  • The suspension of the person’s driver’s license for up to one year.
  • A fine of between $600 up to $1,500.
  • A two year period after the reinstatement of the driver’s license where an ignition interlock device can be placed in their vehicle.

A 3rd offense DUI is also a misdemeanor and the penalties can include:

  • 60 days to one year in jail.
  • 48 to 120 hours of community service.
  • The suspension of the person’s driver’s license for up to two years.
  • A fine of between $600 up to $1500
  • A two year period after the reinstatement of the driver’s license where an ignition interlock device can be placed in their vehicle.
  • 12 DMV points on their driving record.
  • The driver can possibly be forced to take, and pay for, alcohol education classes. 

Another important point to note is that, after a second or third DUI offense, and for 1st offenses where the driver’s BAC is 0.20 or greater, jail time becomes mandatory. 

A 4th offense DUI and subsequent DUIs are actually class 4 felonies so the penalties can be much more severe. These penalties can include:

  • 2 to 6 years in Colorado State Prison and/or with 3-years of parole.
  • A fine of $2,000 all the way up to $500,000 depending on the circumstances. 

Penalties in Colorado for DWAI Convictions

In Colorado, a driver is considered to be ‘driving while ability impaired’ (DWAI) if they are even slightly intoxicated in any way due to ingesting drugs or alcohol, and if their ability to operate a motor vehicle in a safe way is even slightly less, either mentally or physically, than it would have been if they were not intoxicated at all. 

Since DWAI requires the driver to be literally ability impaired, there isn’t a set BAC level that triggers a DWAI charge, unlike the DUI level of 0.08. The police officer will make the determination at the time of arrest if the driver’s ability has been impaired, and this can be based on a number of different factors. But, a BAC of at least 0.05 is often assumed to be evidence of impairment. 

A 1st offense DWAI is a misdemeanor and the penalties can include:

  • Two to 180 days in jail.
  • 24 to 48 hours of community service.
  • 8 DMV points on their driving record.
  • A fine of between $200 up to $500.

A 2nd offense DWAI is also a misdemeanor and the penalties can include:

  • Ten days to one year in jail.
  • 48 to 120 hours of community service.
  • A fine of between $600 up to $1,500.
  • 8 DMV points on their driving record.

A 3rd offense DWAI is also a misdemeanor and the penalties can include:

  • 60 days to one year in jail.
  • 48 to 120 hours of community service.
  • A fine of between $600 up to $1,500.
  • 8 DMV points on their driving record.

It’s important to note that, after a second or third DUI offense, and for 1st offenses where the driver’s BAC is 0.20 or greater, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 days. 

Sobriety Tests

Colorado DUI law requires that you consent to a sobriety test, typically blood or breath, if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that you were driving under the influence or driving while your ability was impaired (DWAI) because of the consumption of alcohol, drugs or both.

It is also important to note that in Colorado you can be charged as a DUI driver whether the drugs that were taken or suspected of being taken, were prescribed or were obtained over-the-counter, such as a cough medicine.

In circumstances where you are given a DUI test and the results indicate that you consumed no alcohol, an officer can request a second test of your blood, urine or saliva for drugs.

Absent medical issues, a pending felony charge, a specific focus on drug intoxication or impairment, or “extraordinary circumstances” which Colorado law defines as including weather related delays, high call volumes involving medical personnel, power outages, malfunctioning breath test equipment and other circumstances that preclude the timely collection of a breath or blood sample by a qualified person in accordance with law, you get to choose your DUI test. However, you don’t get to change your mind once you’ve notified the officer of your choice.

Important legal issues arise when an officer doesn’t honor your choice of a DUI test, if you refuse a DUI test, if you reconsider your earlier refusal to submit to a DUI test and the officer refuses your request, and when an officer or police agency fails to comply with the rules and regulations that govern DUI tests in Colorado.

In Colorado a DUI test result that registers between .02 and .05 blood alcohol content (BAC) for an individual under the age of 21, will result in a charge of underage DUI. A DUI test result between .05 and .079 BAC will result in a charge of DWAI, a DUI test result over.08 will result in a charge of DUI, with enhanced penalties for test results over .200 BAC.

Police officers will frequently charge a person with a DUI test over .08 BAC with both DUI and DUI per se, essentially this gives police and prosecutors two ways to convict you of DUI. A charge of DUI requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt that you were substantially incapable of safely driving as a result of the consumption of alcohol, drugs or both. To prove you were guilty of a DUI per se charge a prosecutor needs only to establish that you were driving with a BAC over .08 beyond a reasonable doubt.

You can be prosecuted for DUI in Colorado even when you refuse a chemical test and it is important to know that in Colorado a jury will be told, in most cases, that you refused to be tested.

Contact a DUI Attorney at Mertes Law for Experienced Help Today

Mertes Law Logo | Colorado DUI LawsWhen your freedom and reputation are at stake, get the best representation. Speak to the Boulder criminal defense attorneys at Mertes Law for experienced help today, and get the representation you deserve. Schedule a free consultation today by filling out the contact form on this page, or by calling (303) 440-0123. 

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