What You Should Know if You Are Charged with DUI in Colorado

Ryan Robertson
By: Ryan Robertson
PublishedOct 30, 2023
25 minute read

If you’ve been caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, one thing is clear: it’s not good. These are serious charges, and you need an aggressive attorney to fight the severe consequences you’re up against. In this guide, you’ll find out what you need to know if you’re charged with DUI in Colorado.

Bottom Line:

DUI penalties vary depending on the severity of the offense and whether you’re a repeat offender. However, a conviction for impaired driving stays on your record forever, even if it’s a first-time offense. You should fight to avoid a DUI conviction whenever possible.

In this Legal Primer:

Understanding the Charges 

Impaired driving is a serious offense in Colorado.  From the prosecution’s standpoint, impaired driving of any type demonstrates poor judgment and puts lives in danger. Of course, the state understands that a person driving “mildly buzzed” after a social gathering doesn’t pose the same danger as someone drunk enough to pass out while driving at high speed. That’s why Colorado recognizes different charges — DUI and DWAI — based on the level of a driver’s impairment.

What is DUI? 

The acronym DUI stands for “Driving Under the Influence,” or, as Colorado Revised Statute 42-4-1301(1) defines it:

Driving a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol and/or drugs, to the extent that the driver’s physical or mental ability to drive safely is substantially diminished. 

While the actual text of the statute is much more verbose, these are the key points. A driver is “under the influence” when alcohol or drug consumption impairs their ability to safely operate a vehicle.

Impairment can be determined through:

  • Visible signs of erratic driving
  • Observable indications of intoxication
  • Field sobriety tests
  • Blood- or breath-alcohol tests
When Am I Considered Legally Intoxicated? 

In Colorado, the legal threshold for substantial impairment is a blood alcohol content (BAC) measurement of .08 percent or greater. It does not matter how well you think your body handles the booze. If you were stopped while driving, and a breath or blood test showed a .08 BAC, you’re getting charged.

In fact, you can be considered legally drunk even if you show no signs of impairment. It’s also important to know that you can face criminal charges if your BAC is below .08 percent.

DUI Per Se

DUI per se is a specific charge that does not require observable proof of impairment. It is based solely on the driver’s BAC measurement exceeding the legal limit.

For example: During a traffic stop, the police officer detects the smell of alcohol and spots an empty beer bottle in the car. This purportedly gives the officer probable cause to arrest someone on suspicion of a DUI, even though the driver shows no outward signs of intoxication. If the driver consents to a blood or breath test, and their BAC is .09, this is DUI per se.

What is DWAI? 

What if you’re not exactly drunk, but you’re driving after consuming some alcohol or drugs? In Colorado, that can get you a DWAI charge.

The acronym DWAI stands for “Driving While Ability Impaired.”  This refers to operating a vehicle …

  • after consuming alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both
  • the driver’s mental or physical capabilities are impaired to the slightest extent
  • clear judgment, adequate physical control, or safe operation of the vehicle are diminished

Colo. Rev. Stats. 42-4-1301 (1) (g)

Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI) is a less-serious criminal charge you can face. The term “ability impaired” is not as harsh as “under the influence”; however, it still indicates some level of intoxication.

The BAC for a DWAI is over .05 but less than .08 percent.

Legally Impaired 

Hey, you weren’t drunk, just a little buzzed. In Colorado, though, if you’re “buzzed” enough to show a BAC of at least .05, that’s trouble. Slight impairment can be enough to warrant a criminal charge.

How Slight Impairments Can Manifest 

Your judgment and coordination could seem unaffected, but what about your peripheral vision? What about depth perception or your reaction to bright lights?

On busy roads like I-25, I-70, or C-470, a split-second mistake can lead to tragedy.

The Difference Between DUI and DWAI 

DUI (driving under the influence) and DWAI (driving while ability impaired) are separate, but similar, charges. DUI is the more serious charge, and brings harsher consequences.

A first-time DUI conviction can lead to:

  • five days to one year in jail
  • $600 – $1000 fine
  • 48 – 96 hours of public service
  • up to two years of probation
  • *driver license suspension up to up to nine months
  • *12 points on driving record

Note: Jail is mandatory if your BAC is found to be .2 or higher.

Conversely, a first-time DWAI conviction brings:

  • two days to six months in jail
  • $200 – $500 fine
  • 24 – 48 hours of public service
  • Up to two years of probation
  • *8 points on driving record

* denotes administrative penalties assessed by the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

The criminal penalties for either a DUI or DWAI conviction escalate with every subsequent conviction.

For example, a second DUI conviction carries a mandatory minimum of 10 days in jail and:

  • up to two years in jail
  • up to a $1500 fine
  • up to four years of probation
  • up to 120 hours of public service
  • *one-year license suspension
  • *12 points on driving record

* denotes administrative penalties assessed by the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

Repeat DUI Offenders 

Now, I know I said earlier that a DWAI is a less serious criminal charge. That’s true, but when it comes to tallying how many DUIs someone has had, a DWAI is added to the count.

For example: If you have a prior DWAI conviction and face a DUI charge, you’ll be treated as if you have two DUIs. Similarly, having one DWAI and being accused of a second DWAI will result in the same consequence.

Marijuana and Drug-Related DUI and DWAI

Driving while stoned or high is as much against the law in Colorado as driving drunk. In fact, it’s covered in the same criminal code. DUI for marijuana and/or drugs means driving while you are mentally and/or physically impaired due to marijuana or drug consumption.

There is no legal limit of marijuana or drugs you can have in your system while driving. Because marijuana or drugs can be used in a variety of ways, at different strengths and strains, the amount matters less than its effect on the driver. Thus, a driver showing any sign of impairment presents probable cause for a possible DUI-Marijuana/Drug charge.

If you’re pulled over, and a blood test shows THC levels of at least 5 nanograms per milliliter, a jury can consider this as evidence that you were driving under the influence of marijuana. However, this evidence is far from conclusive if you have a skilled attorney.

Penalties for DUI-Marijuana/Drugs 

The criminal penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana match the alcohol-related punishments. You can be charged for DWAI or DUI related to marijuana/drugs.

Facts about Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is basically the percentage of alcohol in your bloodstream.

So, if your BAC is 0.01 percent, it means there’s one part alcohol in every 1,000 parts of your blood. That’s fine for an adult. If your BAC is .02 percent, then there are two parts of alcohol for every 1000 parts. That’s also fine, as long as you’re an adult.

Legal BAC Limits in Colorado 

Here’s what we’ve covered so far:

  • The threshold for getting charged with DWAI is a BAC of .05 to .07, and
  • any result over .08 is grounds for a more serious DUI charge.

Those are the primary legal BAC limits for most adult drivers in Colorado. However, you should remember: You can still face charges if the state proves you were substantially incapable of operating your vehicle — even if your BAC was less than .05.

BAC Limits for Commercial Drivers 

Commercial drivers are held to a higher standard than the general public. An excess BAC for a commercial driver is .04 or higher. The penalty for driving with a BAC of .04 or higher is an automatic one-year suspension of your commercial driver’s license. That penalty expands to a three-year CDL suspension if you were transporting hazardous materials when arrested.

Note: The CDL suspension is an administrative penalty assessed by the DMV regardless if the conviction is a DWAI or DUI.

Legal Limits for Minors 

Drivers under the age of 21 have a far lower threshold in the state’s “zero tolerance” policy toward intoxicated/impaired driving. For them, a BAC of .02 to .05 can bring an “underage drinking and driving” (UDD) charge. This is a Class A traffic infraction, and can result in:

  • up to a $150 fine
  • up to three months of a suspended license
  • up to 24 hours of community service
  • four DMV points

Minors arrested with a BAC over .05 and .08, respectively, can be charged as adults for DWAI and DUI. Underage individuals also face the same criminal and administrative penalties.

Factors That Can Affect BAC 

Blood alcohol content (BAC) is one way law enforcement determines whether you’re legally impaired while driving. However, understanding BAC and its implications takes more than counting drinks. Several factors can influence your BAC, such as:

  • Age: Your natural metabolism slows as you get older. This means alcohol could stay in your system longer than it used to. For example: The three beers you drank at your son’s or daughter’s college graduation party might stay in your system longer than the three beers you drank at your own graduation celebration.
  • Tolerance: Tolerance levels can increase or decrease depending on how often you drink. If you drink frequently, then your body processes alcohol more efficiently. However, if you’re an occasional drinker, intoxication can set in after just a couple of drinks.
  • Concentration of Alcohol: The amount of alcohol in a drink is a huge A 12-ounce drink containing a shot of Everclear (95% alcohol) or Absinthe, for example, contains a much higher concentration of alcohol than your run-of-the-mill beer (5% alcohol).
  • Birth Gender: The taller and heavier one is, the better their body is at processing alcohol. Thus, men can typically drink more before showing signs of impairment.
  • Body Mass: People who weigh more can generally tolerate more alcohol than smaller individuals. The more body mass you have, the more alcohol you can take before showing a high BAC.
  • Metabolism: Regardless of height and weight, some people’s bodies naturally process alcohol better. Metabolism depends on many factors, including age, diet, hormones, emotions, and fitness.
  • Physical Fitness: People who are fit and healthy have fewer toxins in their bodies and better blood circulation. This can make them more susceptible to the effects of alcohol compared to inactive individuals.
  • Medications: Certain medications heighten the effects of alcohol, causing impairment or intoxication to set it much sooner. This can increase the risk of a DUI arrest or, worse, an accident. Always be aware of the effects alcohol might have while you’re taking medication.
  • Food: You’ve probably heard that it’s not a good idea to drink on an empty stomach. This is true. With less food to absorb the alcohol, more of it ends up in your bloodstream. Eating a meal before consuming alcohol not only reduces its impact, but decreases the likelihood of a hangover.
  • Carbonation: Fizzy drinks, such as beer and champagne, are processed in the bloodstream faster than non-carbonated beverages like wine or rum.
  • Rate of Consumption: The liver is the body’s organ that metabolizes alcohol. Generally, it can metabolize one standard drink per hour. If you consume four beers in two hours, your BAC might continue to increase an hour after the last drink.

These are the most common factors that can affect your BAC after drinking. Another influence, however, could be the method authorities use to measure BAC.

What’s in a Standard Drink?

In case you’re wondering, a standard U.S. drink is:

  • a 12 ounce beer (5% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (about 12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces of a distilled spirit (about 40% alcohol)

Measuring Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) 

If you’re in an accident or pulled over, the police may suspect impaired driving. Typically, there’s probable cause for the suspicion if the officer notices:

  • slurred speech,
  • unfocused eyes,
  • the smell of alcohol in the car or on your breath, and/or
  • the presence of alcohol in the car.

The police officer will likely ask you to take a Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST) at the scene. You have the right to refuse this test. However, the police can still arrest you for DUI or DWAI with enough probable cause. If they lack sufficient cause, your refusal to submit to the SFST is not grounds for arrest.

If you pass the roadside sobriety test — the walk-and-turn, the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, the one-leg stand — you can still be arrested for DUI, but it’s less likely.

If you fail the roadside sobriety test, you will likely be arrested on the spot. However, while the results of the SFSTs can be used against you in court, the results can be unreliable and attacked by an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Post-Arrest BAC Testing

If you drive in Colorado, you give “express consent” to be tested for chemical impairment if arrested under probable cause. This applies to DUI, DWAI, DUI-Drugs, and UDD situations.

The probable cause triggers the arrest. The arrest triggers “express consent”.

If arrested on suspicion of alcohol impairment, you get your choice of a breath or blood test. While in custody, you will be taken to either the police station or a hospital to complete the evidentiary BAC test of your choice.  If suspected of drug impairment, you generally must provide a blood or breath sample, though urine samples have been used in certain circumstances.

If you refuse to be tested after you’re arrested, you can face serious consequences, such as:

  • a minimum one-year suspension of your driver’s license
  • designated as a “persistent drunk driver,” even if it’s your first arrest
  • mandatory alcohol and/or drug treatment
  • required ignition interlock system in your car
  • filing an SR-22 form (certified proof of coverage) with your auto insurance
  • having your refusal to be tested admitted as evidence in your court trial
  • a three-year suspension of your commercial driver’s license, if you’re   transporting hazardous materials when stopped,

Note two important facts about simply refusing to submit to post-arrest BAC testing:

  • One: This suspension holds even if you’re not ultimately convicted of DUI/DWAI if you have been adjudged by the DMV to have been impaired while driving.
  • Two: Colorado can suspend your license for multiple years if you have previously been convicted of DUI or DWAI.

There are three kinds of tests the state uses to reliably measure blood alcohol (or drug) content. They can test your breath, your blood, or your urine.

BAC Breath Tests

When you drink alcohol, it’s absorbed into your bloodstream and pumped to your brain and lungs. You exhale the alcohol when you breathe.

An evidentiary breath test gauges your BAC by measuring the amount of alcohol in your breath. Your BAC can rise as quickly as 15 minutes after drinking and typically peaks about an hour later.

Colorado relies on the Intoxilyzer 9000, or I-9000, for its evidentiary breath tests. Authorities must follow strict testing guidelines for the test results to be admissible. In addition to all equipment, laboratories, and operators being certified, BAC tests must:

  • Include obtaining two samples measuring not more than .02 grams-per-100-milliliters apart;
  • Occur within two hours of driving;
  • Be performed after a 20-minute “deprivation” period when the defendant cannot eat, belch, regurgitate, or place anything in their mouth;
  • Contain “deep lung” end-breath samples;
  • Be conducted while the defendant is being observed;
  • Include signed paperwork affirming that the test was performed in full compliance with all required procedures

BAC Blood Tests

Like breath tests, blood testing procedures involve specific requirements:

  • The test must occur within two hours of a traffic stop.
  • Blood must be tested by a state-certified laboratory.
  • Sterile equipment must be used
  • Trained medical professionals must collect the blood
  • The collection must occur in the presence of the arresting officer or supervisor
  • Only approved preservatives can be used
  • Blood must be stored correctly
  • Specimens must be shipped for testing within 7 days
  • “Positive” samples must undergo retesting with a different method
  • A portion of the sample must be preserved for 12 months for potential retesting by the defendant.
Can They Draw Blood Against My Will? 

No — at least not under normal circumstances. You’d still face harsh consequences (listed above) for not consenting to a chemical test. However, law enforcement cannot subdue you and take your blood by force. They can, however, seek a court order to force you to undergo a blood test when …

  • You are unconscious or deceased, or
  • The arresting officer has probable cause to suspect you of vehicular assault or homicide, or third-degree assault (with a vehicle).

Blood drawn and tested without consent under these limited circumstances is admissible as evidence in court.

Breath or Blood Test?
There are two factors to consider when deciding whether to submit to a breath test or a blood test:
  1. Breathalyzer tests cannot be re-taken. If you believe the tester got an errant reading, you’re stuck with it.
  2. Once you choose which test to take, you cannot change your mind.

Urine Drug Tests 

If arrested for driving under the influence of drugs (DUID), you may be offered to provide a urine sample. An evidentiary urinalysis can detect a wide range of drugs, including:

  • Cannabis (marijuana)
  • Opioids (oxycodone, heroin)
  • Stimulants (cocaine, crack, methamphetamine)
  • Barbiturates (sleep aids, “downers”)
  • Benzodiazepines (Valium, Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin)

All the listed drugs can impair your ability to drive. All can be detected in urine for one to three days. Marijuana and benzodiazepines may stay in your system for even longer.

However, it’s important to note that a urine test detects drug consumption, but not impairment. No certain amount corresponds to a per se DUID charge. There is a permissible inference that more than .5 nanograms of THC suggests impairment; however, that only applies to marijuana.

Observable Impairment 

In DUID cases, the focus is on impairment rather than the specific drug or its quantity.

Most street cops do not receive the specialized training needed to recognize drug impairment. A skilled defense attorney can challenge their testimony by highlighting the lack of training to determine if drugs caused the observed impairment or not.

On the other hand, more police departments are implementing the necessary training. This way, if an officer isn’t qualified to link impairment to drugs, they may summon a DRE, or drug recognition expert. The testimony of a qualified DRE is admissible in court.

BAC and Impairment: How Much is Too Much? 

Alcohol affects the central nervous system. First, it takes the edge off. It soothes. That’s why many love to drink it in social gatherings or at home after a stressful day.  However, as more alcohol enters the body, it dulls the nerves and impairs the senses, then the mind, and then the body.

Different blood alcohol levels indicate the varying physical and mental effects alcohol causes. Here’s a breakdown of what different percentages of blood alcohol content (BAC) can mean:

  • BAC 0.0: There is no alcohol in your system. You’re sober.
  • BAC 0.02: You begin to feel a warm, relaxing buzz. You may already be slightly impaired.
  • BAC 0.05: The world is blurring at the edges a little. Softening. You feel slightly tipsy.
  • BAC 0.08: You’re definitely “impaired” now.
  • BAC 0.10: Everything feels further away: your mind, your mouth, your limbs. This is the slow-mo dial-up internet version of you.
  • BAC 0.15: You feel nauseous. The room is spinning.
  • BAC 0.15 to 0.30: Drowsiness. Confusion. Vomiting. You could wet yourself.
  • BAC 0.30 to 0.40: You are on the verge of blackout. This is the threshold for alcohol poisoning.
  • BAC over 0.40: You black out. You’ve consumed a potentially fatal amount of alcohol. Now you’re at risk of respiratory arrest, coma, or death.

Remember: Any amount of alcohol can be fatal — to you and others — if you reach a stage of impairment and attempt to drive. This is why Colorado and all the 49 other states have DUI and DWAI laws.

This is Only a Guide
Alcoholics and heavy drinkers can develop a tolerance to booze. This means they may not experience the same effects from the same amount of alcohol as someone who occasionally drinks or stays within recommended daily consumption limits. Different people respond to alcohol differently. Of course, this does not lower their actual blood alcohol concentration.

Myths About Lowering BAC 

Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) does not change quickly or easily. It takes time to sober up. Nevertheless, many people believe in mythical “tactics” to reduce BAC. Let’s dispel a few old wives’ tales:

  • Drinking coffee: Yes, coffee is a stimulant. But it won’t change how alcohol affects your coordination and decision-making, nor will it reduce the amount of alcohol in your blood. Coffee can make you less sleepy, but it will not sober you up enough to drive.
  • Outsmarting a breathalyzer: A breathalyzer does not smell your breath. It detects alcohol molecules from deep within your lungs. Thus, gum, mints, and other breath-concealing tricks will not work.
  • Taking a shower: There’s no evidence whatsoever that showering washes the alcohol out of your blood or sobers you up. Cold water does not help either.
  • Eating: Food can slow your body’s absorption of alcohol. However, it doesn’t completely eliminate its effects. Once the alcohol enters your bloodstream, it can still impair you.
  • Mixing booze and caffeine: A more energetic person who has been drinking is still drunk. Energy drinks, like coffee, do not reduce the intoxicating effects of alcohol. They can, however, contribute to riskier behavior and potentially dangerous side effects, like heart complications.
Keeping Track of Your BAC 

While it can seem more responsible, using online calculators to estimate your BAC can be a mistake. Online blood alcohol concentration “calculators” can give a rough estimate, but that’s all. Your estimated BAC rating is not an admissible defense against an evidentiary chemical test.

Only a certified breathalyzer or ignition interlock device (IID) can accurately measure your breath alcohol. Nevertheless, if you have any doubts about your ability to drive, don’t drive.

Myths About Driving Under the Influence 

While we’re on the subject of fables, let’s discuss and debunk seven more common myths and misconceptions about drunk driving.

One: “Driving and drinking is fine if your BAC is below .08.”
No, that’s actually not OK. Even if you’re below that threshold, alcohol can still diminish your ability to drive. Impairment is the key. If you’re affected by any amount of alcohol, you can still catch at least a DWAI charge.
Two: “The pocket breathalyzer is the boss.”

A pocket breathalyzer can give inaccurate results — especially if you got it from the same store where you bought the booze. A quality breath-testing kit can still be inaccurate due to calibration issues, medical conditions, or other factors. This is why strict standards are placed on evidentiary testing.

Three: “You can’t be charged if you weren’t driving.”

Wrong! Colorado case law has expanded the meaning of driving to “being in control of the motor vehicle” even if it’s not moving. You can even be charged for DUI if you’re found asleep behind the wheel, with alcohol in your system under certain circumstances.

Four: “Police cannot test your BAC without a warrant.”

In Colorado, police officers only need consent to test your BAC. If you’re arrested under probable cause of DUI, police have “express consent” to test. Technically, you can refuse a post-arrest BAC test, but that could result in a long license suspension.

Five: “Polite compliance can get you out of a DUI arrest.”

You cannot charm a police officer out of doing their job. If an officer has good reason to believe you’re driving drunk, they’ll arrest you. Officers are obligated to follow the law and get you off the road if they suspect DUI. Of course, if you’re courteous and respectful to the police, they’ll be courteous while arresting you.

Six: “A DUI is not a felony.”

Wrong. Since 2015, felony DUI charges are automatic when someone has already been convicted three times for DUI and/or DWAI. Furthermore, as misdemeanors go, a DUI conviction can be a quite painful “slap on the wrist.”
Seven: “Might as well plead guilty if charged with DUI.”

This is absolutely not true. Still, you should talk to a lawyer — and soon! There are a number of defense options available if you’ve been accused of DUI. We will touch on some of them later in this article.

Consequences and Penalties for a DUI Conviction 

We’ve talked about the crime. Now let’s talk about the punishments you could face if you’re convicted.

As with most crimes, penalties can vary depending on the severity of the offense and your prior record. To list every possible outcome from every type of DUI conviction would be an exhausting and repetitive exercise. I’ll try to cover the most common scenarios.

Misdemeanor DUI 

Your first three DWAI/DUI convictions are considered misdemeanors. Unfortunately, when it comes to DUI, Colorado is a state that puts the “mean” in misdemeanor. If you think of a misdemeanor punishment as a “bee sting,” think instead of a hornet.

What makes DUI convictions so unpleasant is it’s not just the criminal system that punishes you. There are, for example:

  • administrative sanctions from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV),
  • a sharp increase in the cost of your auto insurance,
  • the fact that a DUI conviction is permanent — it cannot be sealed or expunged — and
  • potential hindrances to your current and future employment opportunities

All of this is in addition to the criminal penalties that come with a DUI conviction. Let’s review what those can be for a first, second, or third misdemeanor conviction:

First-Time DUI Penalties

For a first-time DUI offense, the criminal penalties are:

  • From five days to one year days in jail
  • Between $600 and $1,000 in fines, plus court costs

The administrative penalties are:

  • Up to nine months license suspension
  • Required usage of an ignition interlock device (IID) to start your car

Note: An ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer wired to your car’s ignition. You blow into it before starting your car. If your BAC is too high, the device locks your car’s ignition, preventing it from starting.

That’s bad enough. However, an IID also requires a costly installation and ongoing monthly fees that the driver must pay.

Penalties for a first-time DWAI offense include:

  • Jail: from two to 180 days
  • Fines: from $200 to $500, plus court costs
  • Public Service: from 24 to 48 hours
Second-Time DUI Penalties

Once you’ve already been convicted of one DUI or DWAI, it doesn’t matter if your second offense is a DUI or DWAI. The punishments are the same, and are:

  • Jail: ten days to one year
  • Fines: $600 to $1,500, plus court costs
  • License Suspension: one year (if the second conviction is within five years of the first)
  • Public Service: 48 to 120 hours
  • Ignition Interlock Device: two to five years
Third-Time DUI Penalties 

For a third-time DUI or DWAI offense, the penalties are:

  • Jail: 60 days to 1 year
  • Fines: $600 to $1,500, plus court costs
  • License Suspension: indefinite, but you can apply for reinstatement after two years
  • Public Service: 48 to 120 hours
  • Ignition Interlock Device: 2 to 5 years — if/after your license is reinstated

Aggravating Factors in DUI Cases 

Aggravating factors make an already-serious crime even worse. Unfortunately, these tend to be fairly common in DUI cases.

For example: A police officer pulls over an obviously impaired driver. There will already be a DUI or DWAI charge. However, when running a background check, the officer learns the driver already has a suspended license. That’s an aggravating factor, which the prosecutor will use to argue for harsher penalties.

Other common aggravating factors include:

  • Minor Child in the Vehicle: If a child was in your car during a suspected DUI stop, you could face child abuse charges. This can lead to additional penalties and issues with child custody and social services.
  • Driving Carelessly: Impaired driving often resembles careless driving, and can be easily attached to a DUI or DWAI charge.
  • Driving Recklessly: Intoxication can alter one’s emotions while making them more willing to engage in risky behavior. This can lead to reckless driving and the additional charge.
  • Extra High BAC: The legal blood alcohol concentration limit for DUI in Colorado is .08. However, if a chemical test shows you had 0.20 percent or higher BAC, the punishment can be even harsher. For example: 10 mandatory and consecutive days in jail, plus license suspension.

A DUI-related accident resulting in serious injury or death to another person raises the crime to a felony.

Penalties for Felony DUI  

You can be charged with felony DUI under one of two circumstances.

  1. You already have at least three DUI/DWAI convictions, or
  2. While driving impaired, you caused an accident that seriously injured or killed another person. This is considered vehicular assault or vehicular homicide.

If you are convicted of felony DUI — with no accident or injury to others — you could face:

  • A minimum mandatory of 120 days of jail
  • Up to six years of probation
  • Two to six years in community corrections
  • Two to six years in a Colorado state prison, and a three-year parole period,
  • from $2,000 to $500,000 in fines, plus court costs, and
  • two years license revocation.

Continuous monitoring uses a trans-dermal ankle bracelet to detect alcohol consumption. The bracelet must be worn 24 hours per day for the duration of the probation period. If you drink alcohol while wearing the device, you violate the probation and can be sent to prison.

Penalties for DUI-Related Vehicular Assault 

If someone causes serious bodily injury to another person by driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both, it’s vehicular assault. — C.R.S. 18-3-205 

This is an even more serious criminal offense, and the potential punishment reflects that:

  • Prison: two to six years, with three years of parole,
  • Fines: $2000 to $500,000, plus court costs,
  • License revocation: a minimum of one year, and
  • Alcohol monitoring: 90 continuous days, if granted probation.
Penalties for DUI-Related Vehicular Homicide 

If someone causes another person’s death while driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or their combination, they commit vehicular homicide. — C.R.S. 18-3-106

The potential criminal penalties:

  • Prison: four to 12 years, with five years of parole, and/or
  • Fines: $3000 to $750,000, plus court costs,
  • License revocation: a minimum of one year, and
  • Alcohol monitoring: 90 continuous days, if granted probation.

DUI License Suspension and Revocation 

My DUI clients often ask: “How long will my driver’s license be suspended or revoked?”

The answer depends on a number of factors, and we’ve discussed most of them here. What DUI clients really want to know is if it’s possible to get reinstated sooner.

First, let’s discuss the differences between a suspension and a more serious revocation.

A suspension is a temporary withdrawal of driving privileges. As long as the license is not expired, it can be re-issued once your driving privileges are restored.

A revocation completely voids your driver’s license. It cannot be reissued. When/if your privileges are reinstated, you will have to acquire a new license. This means you must retake the written and driving exams.

It’s possible to regain driving privileges, but not easy. Let’s look at the process.

The Initial Suspension 

Once you’ve been arrested for DUI, the Colorado DMV will suspend your driver’s license. This happens within seven days of the DMV receiving proof that your BAC was .08 or above or your having refused to engage in chemical testing.

Either way, you may request a hearing with the Colorado DMV within seven days of the DMV becoming aware of your test results or refusal. You’ll have the opportunity to contest the suspension during this hearing.

Your criminal defense attorney can request this hearing for you, and represent you to the DMV.

Duration of Suspensions 

Here is a handy chart listing the length of suspension for each DUI-related charge.

DUI license suspensions:

  • First offense: nine-months
  • Second offense: one-year
  • Third or subsequent offense: two-years

DWAI convictions follow DUI revocation periods.

Underage Drinking and Driving revocations for drivers under age 21:

  • First UDD: three-month revocation.
  • Second UDD: six-month revocation.
  • Third or subsequent UDD: one-year revocation.

Revocations for Refusing chemical tests:

  • First refusal: one-year revocation.
  • Second refusal: two-year revocation.
  • Third or subsequent refusal: three-year revocation.

Note: You can lose your driving privileges for longer if you refuse a post-arrest BAC test — even if you’re acquitted or DUI or your case gets dropped.

Reinstating Your License Early 

Once you’re used to the convenience of driving, losing that privilege for nine months or longer seems unthinkable. Fortunately, you may be able to apply for conditional driving rights immediately. But there’s a catch:

You must install an ignition interlock device (IID) and use it for the duration of your suspension/revocation. An IID is a breathalyzer connected to your ignition. You must blow into it each time you want to drive. If the IID detects alcohol in your lungs, your car will not start.

As the convicted DUI defendant, you are responsible for the cost of the IID. This includes an initial installation fee, a monthly fee to lease the device, and any maintenance fees.You must use state-approved IID vendors.

Cost Example: Smart Start Inc. installation fees start at $99. Then there’s a monthly charge of at least $75 to rent the interlock device. Obviously, their prices can increase, like anything else. And the costs vary depending on the type of vehicle you own.

While using an interlock device may seem invasive, there is an upside. You could get your driving privileges back early depending on your successes while using an IID.

One More Catch 

Not all drivers convicted of DUI-related charges can apply for immediate conditional reinstatement of driving privileges.

  • Anyone who refused a post-arrest chemical test must wait two months to apply for reinstatement with IID
  • Anyone aged 21 or younger must wait two years if convicted of DUI, or after refusing a BAC test

How a DUI Conviction Impacts Your Insurance 

The consequences of a DUI conviction ripple further and further outward. The criminal justice system comes for you, then the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and so will your auto insurance company.

If you choose not to tell your insurance provider about your DUI conviction, the DMV eventually will.

SR22 Forms 

An SR22 is a form showing proof of insurance. It is required for Colorado drivers trying to reinstate their revoked or suspended licenses due to DUI convictions. The insurance carrier must report any lapses in coverage/premium payments to the DMV. If you’re on probationary driving privileges, you must maintain insurance coverage. Failing to do so violates the terms of your probation.

The SR22 requirement also helps insurance companies detect DUI convictions, so they can raise premiums according to the risk.

Cost Increases 

Insurance rates go up noticeably after one speeding ticket. They skyrocket after a DUI conviction. In fact, a DUI triggers a larger increase in the cost of premiums than any other traffic offense. This includes reckless driving, racing, and even at-fault accidents.

One DUI conviction is enough to classify you as a “high-risk” driver. This can mean as much as a 114-percent spike in your insurance costs. Whatever your premium was before the DUI, the amount could more than double afterward.

Policy Cancellations 

Some conservative auto insurance carriers may cancel your policy if you have a DUI conviction. Others may increase your premiums and eliminate “safe driver” perks. Reputable companies may be reluctant to insure individuals with a poor driving record or previous DUI convictions. This can lead to dealing with predatory “high-risk” insurers who charge higher prices.

Note: If your license is suspended or revoked for longer than six months, your original auto insurance could lapse. This can increase the cost of premiums even more after reinstatement.

Employment and Other Consequences of a DUI Conviction 

Imagine it. You’ve been charged, fined, stripped of your driving privileges, and made to pay a king’s ransom to get them back. Yet, you could lose your steady income just when you need it most.

Certain professions will instantly terminate any employee convicted of a DUI. These can include:

  • Commercial driving jobs
  • Teaching
  • Law enforcement
  • Professions requiring a pilot’s license
  • Medical professions
  • Pharmaceutical sales
  • Miliary positions
  • Private industry jobs requiring security clearance
  • Banking
  • Faith-based clergy positions
Your Work Schedule
A DUI conviction could also limit the hours you are available to work. When you’re driving on a probationary basis, a judge might only allow you to do so during certain hours. You may need to limit your drive time and file those hours with the court. Such restriction could also impact your ability to perform your current job or interview for other ones.
Your Professional Reputation 
It’s an inescapable fact. Employers take a negative view of DUI charges, seeing them as a sign of alcoholism and other potential problems. Look at it from their perspective: Hiring someone with a DUI can lead to increased costs from job injuries, absences, and poor performance. With other applicants available, employers may avoid taking chances on potential problem employees.

It’s Always There 

For the rest of your life, your DUI will show up in a background check. Colorado has made strides to help individuals get jobs after being convicted of a crime with its so-called Ban the Box law. Nevertheless, a private employer can still ask you if you’ve been convicted of a crime after you’ve passed the initial interview stage. And some employers, like gun stores and government agencies, can ask you right off the bat if you have a criminal history.

Other Consequences 

Some other DUI consequences can include:

  • Higher costs for life and health insurance policies
  • Increased scrutiny and limitations on travel and immigration
  • Professional license withheld or revoked by the state bar, or medical board, etc.
  • Difficulty or inability to rent a car
  • Potential denial of naturalization or green card
  • Loss of your business vehicle or the ability to drive it
  • Having your security clearance denied or revoked

Defending Yourself Against a DUI Charge 

If the prospect of facing DUI or DWAI charges didn’t worry you enough before, it should now. Colorado’s laws against drunk/drugged driving aim to severely punish and deter such behavior. If you have any chance of escaping a conviction, you’d better take it.

Your first step is to hire an aggressive and experienced defense attorney. You need someone at your side who has been down this path with clients like you; someone to present facts and raise questions that work in your favor.

Common and Effective Defenses 

The prosecution wants to convict you. To do that, they must prove two facts beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You were in control of a motor vehicle when the police stopped you, and
  2. You were under the influence of alcohol or drugs

The prosecution must present ample evidence, gathered during and after the arrest, to support both of those facts.

The state must share all of its findings and evidence with the defense before it can bring its case to trial. Your defense attorney will evaluate all the evidence and look closely to see if law enforcement acted appropriately.

Here are some important defenses to consider:

  • Insufficient Probable Cause: A police officer must have a good reason to believe you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The reason must be specific and observable. Just because you ran a stop light on a Saturday night doesn’t mean you might be drunk. Sober people drive through stop lights all the time.
  • Illegal Search and Seizure: The police can pull you over, ask for your license and registration, and order you out of your vehicle. But they cannot go rummaging through your car without a warrant, probable cause, or your consent. If they conducted an unlawful search, any evidence they seized may be inadmissible. And the charges could be dismissed.
Challenging the Arrest 

The police need probable cause — not just a hunch — to pull you over or make an arrest.

Probable cause requires visual evidence or a compelling reason to believe a crime has occurred. For example, they can pull you over if you exceed the speed limit or if your vehicle matches a wanted suspect’s car. During the stop, the police must have additional probable cause, such as the smell of alcohol or signs of intoxication, to suspect drunk driving. Without sufficient probable cause, the DUI case may be dismissed.

Challenging the BAC Result 

Blood alcohol content can look like reliable evidence of impaired driving and drinking. However, it’s far from flawless. There are many variables that can affect the person being tested and many others that can call the test into question.

Here are a few:

  1. Rising BAC content: Alcohol enters the bloodstream more slowly than you drink it. Therefore, the alcohol in your system may have increased between the time you were driving and when you were tested.
  2. Errors in DUI blood testing: Your lawyer can challenge issues like blood contamination or fermentation of the blood sample.
  3. Inconsistent test results: One test shows a BAC of .08, the other shows .03. Discrepancies in results from separate blood tests can weaken the case against you.
  4. Non-compliance with testing procedures: It’s possible the laboratory failed to follow correct protocols. For example, they mixed the preservatives incorrectly or relied on shoddy record keeping.
  5. BAC accuracy affected by diet or health: Conditions like acid reflux or heartburn could have undermined the test’s accuracy.
  6. Residual mouth alcohol: The presence of alcohol in your mouth after drinking may have affected the breath test results.
  7. Breath testing errors: Factors like body temperature or interference from background radiation could have compromised the accuracy of the breathalyzer.
  8. Officer Bungled the Breath Test: Your lawyer can highlight any deviations from the correct protocols by the arresting officer.
Getting Your Charge Reduced 

Without a rock solid case, the prosecution may prefer a plea deal with your attorney. If so, you could plead DUI charges down to less-damaging DWAI or reckless driving.  Also, in exchange for a guilty plea, your attorney could negotiate a deferred sentence.

In a deferred sentence, you may avoid the harshest DUI penalties by meeting strict requirements. The judge suspends your presumptive sentence for a certain amount of time and sets terms, which can include:

  • No alcohol whatsoever,
  • Submitting to periodic blood tests, and
  • Completing an alcohol-treatment program.

If you satisfy these probationary terms, the judge will withdraw other criminal sanctions for DUI. The conviction still goes on your record. If you fail the terms of your deferred sentence, then all recommended punishments, including jail time, apply.

You’re Not Convicted Yet 

Remember, you are innocent until proven guilty — and you could have a stronger defense than you think. It’s not just the police officer’s word against yours anymore. They all wear body cameras that must be turned on when conducting traffic stops. Police cruisers have mounted dashboard cams which may disagree with the arresting officer’s testimony.

Let’s Get You Through This 

At Robinson & Henry, we understand the immense stress that comes with a DUI charge. Colorado’s approach to deterring intoxicated driving is rather tough and aggressive. So are we. We’re here to help you navigate it. We strive to minimize the hardship a DUI conviction can bring. If you’ve just received a revocation notice, act quickly. You have only seven days to request a DMV hearing. We can represent you. Call 303-688-0944 for your case assessment.

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