Everything You Must Understand About Felony DUI in Colorado

Ryan Robertson
By: Ryan Robertson
PublishedDec 19, 2023
7 minute read

Let’s not mince words. If you’re charged with felony DUI in Colorado, you’re in serious trouble. After all, misdemeanor DUI comes with harsh penalties to deter impaired driving. If you’re facing a felony DUI, it means one of two things to a prosecutor: You haven’t been sufficiently deterred, or worse, you’ve seriously injured or killed someone. Either way, the district attorney’s office is coming after you, and you need a skilled criminal defense attorney in your corner. This article explores everything you need to know if you’re charged with a felony DUI in Colorado.

Bottom Line:

Colorado would rather rehabilitate a DUI offender than lock them up. Once you’ve crossed the line from misdemeanor to felony, however, you’re not getting the benefit of the doubt. Conviction could lead to years behind bars and owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and/or restitution.

In this Article:

When a DUI is a Felony in Colorado 

DUI refers to driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both. In Colorado, a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of .08 or above constitutes DUI per se.

The state also acknowledges DWAI (driving while ability impaired) for BAC levels between .05 and .07, or lower if impairment is evident from your driving or conduct.

The first three DUI or DWAI offenses are misdemeanors, but the penalties escalate after every conviction. The fourth offense upgrades to a felony, regardless of whether it’s for DUI or DWAI.

There are two ways to incur a felony DUI charge:

  1. being a fourth-time offender or
  2. causing serious bodily injury or death in a DUI-related accident.

If you drive drunk and cause a crash that seriously injures or kills someone, you will be charged with a felony even if it is your first DUI.

Repeat DUI Offender 

Being a repeat DUI offender indicates you have at least three prior DUIs or DWAIs on your record.

The prosecution will argue that despite opportunities to change, marked by significant fines, license suspension, and even jail time, you’ve been apprehended yet again for driving under the influence.

A repeat offender DUI is a class 4 felony, punishable by:

  • $2,000 to $500,000 in fines
  • 2 to 6 years in prison
  • Mandatory parole of 3 years after release from incarceration
  • Victim restitution payments
  • At least 9 months’ driver’s license suspension (if granted probation)
  • 90 days of continuous alcohol monitoring (if granted probation)

When you’re out on parole, you will be required to re-apply and re-test for a new driver’s license. You’ll also have to install an ignition interlock device in your car. It’s a breathalyzer connected to your car’s ignition. If it detects alcohol in your system, your car will not start.

You Only Get Three Misdemeanors 

Colorado does not observe any “washout period” for previous DUI/DWAI convictions. Once you have three misdemeanor DUIs, that’s it.

The law does not care if:

  • There was no accident or injuries
  • Previous DUI or DWAI offenses occurred in other states or U.S. territories (they carry over to Colorado)
  • How long ago your previous DUI convictions took place

No matter where or when they occurred, your prior DUIs stay on your record permanently. They can never be sealed or expunged. Even if your third DUI/DWAI happened 15 or 20 years ago, your fourth will be a felony. So will any subsequent DUI charges after your fourth.

Is Prison Avoidable After a Felony DUI? 

Avoiding prison for a felony DUI is possible with a skilled defense attorney and mitigating factors on your side. The state prefers rehabilitation over incarceration. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll avoid time behind bars.

A 2017 bill toughened Colorado’s felony DUI laws, applying mandatory minimum jail sentences to offenders on probation. In fact, the minimum jail terms are a condition of the probation. If you’re sentenced to probation instead of prison, you must serve at least 90 days in jail or 120 days in a work release program if you’re eligible.

Once you’re out on probation, your sentence will include:

  • 90 days of continuous alcohol monitoring
  • 48 to 120 hours of valuable community service
  • Level II alcohol and drug education classes
Aggravating Factors 

The judge can impose 4 to 12 years in prison if your felony DUI comes with serious aggravating circumstances, such as:

  • DUI as a violation of probation or parole
  • DUI with a minor child (age 16 or younger) in the vehicle, or
  • DUI while driving with a suspended, revoked, or restricted license.

DUI Causing Serious Injury or Death 

If your impaired driving causes injury or death to another person, the prosecution will seek a prison sentence. Any DUI offense that creates victims will demand even greater justice, even if it was an accident.

With a good defense attorney, you could avoid prison. Even so, the most likely outcome — outside of a prison sentence — is probation with a punitive jail sentence ranging from 90 days to two years.

Any DUI-related accident deemed the proximate cause of serious bodily injury to another person is also a class 4 felony.

“Serious bodily injury” is defined as an injury that presents:

  • a substantial risk of death,
  • serious and lasting disfigurement, or
  • prolonged impairment of any body part or organ. This includes broken bones and second- or third-degree burns.

Colo. Rev. Stat. 18-1-901 (3) (p)

Also called “DUI Vehicular Assault,” DUI with serious bodily injury is punishable by:

  • Up to $500,000 in fines,
  • 2 to 6 years in prison, and
  • Mandatory parole of 3 years after release

Note: After an accident causing serious injury to another person, a BAC of .05 or higher is enough to justify a felony DUI charge.

DUI Vehicular Homicide 

Driving a motor vehicle while impaired or under the influence is a class 3 felony if it causes another person’s death. It is referred to in Colorado as DUI vehicular homicide. — C.R.S. 18-3-106

Again, vehicular homicide cases are fraught with high emotions. The prosecution will pursue the longest, harshest possible sentence. If more than one person dies in the crash, more DUI vehicular homicide charges can be added.

DUI vehicular homicide is punishable by:

  • A fine of $3,000 to $750,000,
  • 4 to 12 years in prison,
  • Mandatory 5-year parole
  • Victim restitution payments
  • At least a 9-month driver’s license suspension (if granted probation), and
  • 90 days of continuous alcohol monitoring (if granted probation)

Note: If you are allowed to drive again, you’ll be required to install an interlock ignition device in your car.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors 

Aggravating factors, such as those listed above, could make it harder to avoid prison.

However, if you’re not a repeat DUI offender, some facts could work in your favor. Such mitigating factors include:

  • A clean driving record
  • No prior criminal history
  • Voluntarily seeking therapy and treatment for substance abuse
  • Accepting responsibility for the accident

Long-Term Consequences of a Felony Conviction 

Many people who are convicted of crimes continue to be punished long after they have paid their debt to society. A felony DUI conviction is a stain someone carries for the rest of their life. A felony can make life more difficult beyond the legal repercussions.

Here are some key long-term repercussions:

  • Employment Challenges: Many employers are hesitant to hire someone with a felony record. This can limit job opportunities and hinder career advancement, potentially leading to underemployment or unemployment.
  • Housing Difficulties: Getting housing can be more difficult. Many landlords conduct background checks and may be reluctant to rent to someone with a felony conviction.
  • Educational Opportunities: Access to higher education may be restricted, with some colleges and universities conducting background checks. Additionally, you could be ineligible for certain types of financial aid after a felony conviction.
  • Voting Rights: In many jurisdictions, felony convictions can lead to temporary or permanent disenfranchisement. You could lose your right to vote.
  • Social Stigma and Relationships: The stigma associated with a felony conviction can strain personal relationships while making it difficult to build new ones.
  • Professional Licenses and Certifications: Certain professions require licenses or certifications that may be denied or revoked after a felony conviction.
  • Public Benefits: Eligibility for certain public benefits, like food stamps or public housing, could be affected by a felony record.
  • Travel Restrictions: Traveling outside the country can be more difficult, as some countries do not grant visas to individuals with felony convictions. Canada, for one, will not allow a U.S. felony DUI convict to visit or relocate there.
  • Firearm Rights: Many jurisdictions will not allow felons to own or possess firearms.
  • Increased Legal Scrutiny: A past felony conviction can lead to increased scrutiny by law enforcement and harsher sentences for any future offenses.
  • Impact on Family: The effects of a felony conviction can extend to family members, including emotional distress and financial strain, especially if the convicted person was the primary breadwinner.
  • Credit and Financial Opportunities: A felony record affects credit scores and access to loans. It could make it difficult to finance large purchases like a home or car.

Some of these consequences can be mitigated over time, especially if you demonstrate rehabilitation and good behavior. However, it’s better to fight off a felony conviction if you can.

Possible Defenses Against a Felony DUI Conviction 

The severity of Colorado’s felony DUI laws means charges should be taken seriously. If you want to escape conviction, take action immediately.

Your first move is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney. An experienced lawyer will be familiar with DUI cases and sharp at raising doubts in your favor.

Challenge the Arrest and Overall Narrative 

To secure a conviction, prosecutors must prove you were driving and impaired by alcohol or drugs. They’re obliged to share any evidence they have with your defense attorney, who will scrutinize it and the conduct of law enforcement.

Key defenses include:

Insufficient Probable Cause: Police need a concrete, observable reason to pull you over. They need additional probable cause during the stop to arrest you for DUI. Absent a reasonable, articulable suspicion, any evidence gathered after you’ve been pulled over may be suppressed by the judge.

Illegal Search and Seizure:
Evidence from searches without a warrant, probable cause, or consent may be excluded, potentially dismissing the charges.

Your Rights Were Ignored or Abused: Police must advise you of your constitutional rights during your arrest. After the arrest, you have the right to an attorney, and to remain silent if you don’t wish to questioned. Police are not allowed to intimidate or coerce you into admitting anything.

Shoddy Testing: All evidentiary chemical tests — blood draws, breathalyzers, urine samples — must adhere to strict routines and standards. Otherwise, they become inadmissible as evidence, ruining the prosecution’s case. Your lawyer can challenge inconsistent results, errors in results, and improper administration of the tests, for example.

Challenge the Accident: If you’ve been charged with felony DUI after an accident causing injury or death, your attorney can:

  • point out inconsistencies in witness statements,
  • re-enact the crash with experts to find facts in your favor,
  • challenge the finding of fault; the person with BAC isn’t necessarily the cause of the wreck
  • point out that you weren’t even driving.
Get Your Felony DUI Charge Reduced 

If your attorney effectively challenges the prosecution’s evidence, the state may consider a plea bargain. This results in some level of ‘justice’ while potentially sparing you from harsher penalties and a felony record.

Negotiations can be initiated by either party. Your lawyer, highlighting weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, could secure reduced charges or even a full dismissal.

Plea discussions are typically lengthy and stressful. They can take weeks or even months. But reducing a felony DUI to a misdemeanor offense like careless or reckless driving can be significantly beneficial.

DUI Vehicular Homicide and Victim’s Rights 

In Colorado, vehicular homicide is a victim’s rights crime. This means the prosecutor must confer with the victim’s family on plea deals before making an offer to the defense. This requirement can complicate plea negotiations due to the family’s emotional involvement. It can potentially dash hopes of a non-trial resolution.

Avoid a Felony DUI Conviction While You Can 

Have you been charged with a felony DUI? Remember, you’re still innocent until proven guilty — and you should never underestimate the benefits of good defense counsel. At Robinson & Henry, we tackle aggressive felony DUI charges head-on. Are you in a tough spot? Get yourself a tough, but experienced and compassionate attorney. Let us stand in your corner. Call 303-688-0944 for a case assessment.

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