What to Expect When Facing Your First Colorado DUI Charge

Ryan Robertson
By: Ryan Robertson
PublishedDec 13, 2023
4 minute read

If you were charged with driving under the influence for the first time, then you know one poor decision plus a little bad luck can re-order the entire course of your life. A first-time DUI can disrupt your career, threaten your driving privileges, and cost thousands of dollars. Here’s the thing, a DUI charge does not have to result in a DUI conviction. Here’s what to expect when facing your first Colorado DUI charge.

Look, it’s okay to feel embarrassed, ashamed, even angry at yourself or the police for getting charged. You have the rest of your life to kick yourself, if you want. But right now? The most important thing is avoiding a conviction.

That starts with hiring an aggressive, experienced DUI criminal defense attorney.

Understanding Your DUI Charge

In Colorado, driving “under the influence” of alcohol or drugs is a bad idea. Driving mildly-buzzed after a social gathering is unacceptable under Colorado law. Still, it’s not as dangerous as driving drunk and blacking out behind the wheel.

As such, Colorado has different charges — DUI and DWAI — based on a driver’s level of impairment, which is determined by:

  • Visible signs of erratic driving
  • Observable indications of intoxication
  • Field sobriety tests
  • Blood or breath-alcohol tests

In alcohol-related cases, a blood test or breathalyzer determines your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). For accuracy, alcohol tests must be conducted within two hours of the police stopping you.

Urine tests can reveal the presence of almost any drug.


DUI stands for “Driving Under the Influence” of alcohol, drugs, or even a combination of both. Under the influence indicates that your ability to drive safely is seriously diminished, putting yourself and others at risk.

If your BAC is at .08 or above, you will be charged with DUI. Even on your first offense, even if you show no signs of impairment, .08 is too much. You could even end up with a DUI per se charge, recognizing that you were unquestionably over the limit.


DWAI stands for “driving while ability impaired” and is similar to, but not quite as serious as, DUI. You’re not exactly “plastered,” but alcohol and/or drugs have compromised your judgment and reaction time. You can be charged with DWAI if your BAC measures from .05 to .07.

Marijuana and Drug-Related DUI and DWAI 

Colorado law prohibits driving while impaired by drugs or marijuana. So-called “drugged driving” is treated as a criminal offense under the same criminal code as drunk driving.

Unlike alcohol, there is no legal limit for most drugs that can be present in a driver’s system. Drugs hit everyone a little differently. Rather, any visible signs of impairment can lead to a possible DUI-Marijuana/Drug charge.

Marijuana and THC 

A chemical test showing THC levels of at least 5 nanograms per milliliter can be considered as evidence of DUI-marijuana. However, skilled attorneys can challenge this evidence.

Factors that Can Affect Your Blood Alcohol Concentration 

Impaired driving is a real problem. Colorado tries to crack down on it to make the roads safer for everyone. However, detecting and determining impairment is an inexact science.

For example, figuring out BAC isn’t as simple as counting how many drinks you’ve had. Other factors play a part in how much alcohol shows up in your system. Such as:

  • Age: Metabolism slows down with age, causing alcohol to stay in the system longer.
  • Tolerance: Frequent drinkers build tolerance, while occasional drinkers can become intoxicated quickly.
  • Concentration of Alcohol: How much alcohol a drink contains affects BAC, with stronger drinks having a greater impact.
  • Birth Gender: Taller and heavier individuals typically tolerate alcohol better.
  • Body Mass: More body mass allows for greater alcohol tolerance.
  • Metabolism: Individual variations in metabolism affect alcohol processing.
  • Physical Fitness: Fit individuals may be more susceptible to alcohol effects due to better circulation.
  • Medications: Certain medications can intensify the effects of alcohol.
  • Food: Consuming alcohol on an empty stomach leads to a higher BAC.
  • Carbonation: Carbonated drinks like champagne and beer are processed faster than non-carbonated ones like wine.
  • Rate of Consumption: The liver can handle about one standard drink per hour. If you’re emptying bottles faster than that, your BAC is going to climb.

All of this is important to keep in mind, especially when establishing a credible defense against DUI charges. You’ll want a good defense when you consider the punishments for a conviction.

Consequences and Penalties for a First DUI Conviction

The penalties for a first-time DUI conviction can vary based on the offense and your prior record. The most common scenarios are outlined below.

In Colorado, your first three DWAI/DUI convictions are considered misdemeanors. Don’t let a word like “misdemeanor” fool you; the penalties are harsh.

First-Time DUI Penalties

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

  • Jail time of five days to one year
  • Fines ranging from $600 to $1,000, plus court costs

The administrative penalties include:

  • Up to a nine-month license suspension
  • Required usage of an ignition interlock device (IID) in the car, which comes with installation costs and monthly fees.

Penalties for a first-time DWAI offense include:

  • Jail time of two to 180 days
  • Fines ranging from $200 to $500, plus court costs
  • Public service of 24 to 48 hours.
Collateral Consequences of Conviction

Here’s the biggest reason why you don’t want a DUI conviction on your record: it’s the punishment that keeps on punishing. Long after you’ve paid the fines, attended treatment, and gotten your license back, you will contend with:

  • a permanent criminal record — DUIs cannot be sealed or expunged
  • limited job opportunities depending on your career or vocation
  • increased auto insurance rates

Defending Yourself Against a First-Time DUI Charge

Facing DUI or DWAI charges in Colorado is serious. To increase your chances of avoiding a conviction, hire an experienced defense attorney. You need someone on your side who can present favorable facts and raise questions.

Common defenses include:

  • proving that there was insufficient probable cause for the traffic stop,
  • showing that BAC/drug tests were inaccurate or administered incorrectly, and
  • challenging an illegal search and seizure.

If law enforcement acted improperly, the evidence they obtained may be inadmissible and the charges dismissed.

Getting Charges Reduced

A sharp attorney could set up a favorable plea bargain by poking holes in the prosecution’s evidence, which could result in lighter penalties.

Both sides can start these talks, and while they can be drawn-out and nerve-wracking, the payoff can be huge—like getting your charge reduced to reckless driving.

Don’t Face Your DUI Charge Alone 

Robinson & Henry’s experienced team of criminal defense attorneys can help you navigate Colorado’s DUI criminal process. Our priority is what’s in your best interest. We can go over the specifics of your case and decide how best to proceed. Act quickly if you’ve been charged with DUI. Call us at 303-688-0944 for a case assessment.

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