DUI in Colorado

What is a DUI in Colorado?

A DUI is a common legal or police abbreviation of "Driving Under the Influence" in Colorado. It refers to the crime of driving a vehicle while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both. It is a severe offense in Colorado, with varying penalties depending on the charge.

Courts in Colorado have the discretion to administer criminal sentences and administrative penalties on perpetrators of this offense. Usually, felony DUI offenses in Colorado are included in the offender's Colorado criminal record unless dismissed or expunged by a court order. Under the Colorado Revised Statutes, the severity of DUI offenses ranges from simple misdemeanors to felonies.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWAI in Colorado?

The primary difference between a DUI and DWAI in Colorado is the Blood/Breath Alcohol (BAC) level required to constitute an offense. BAC refers to the blood or breath alcohol content of a person's blood.

If a motorist has a BAC level of 0.08% or more, they will be charged with a DUI, whether or not they drive safely. On the other hand, if a motorist has a BAC level of less than 0.08% but up to 0.05%, they will likely face charges for DWAI. As long as drugs or alcohol impacts the person's ability to drive, the charges will stick.

Essentially, when a person drives a vehicle while intoxicated, they commit the offense of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) per section 42-4-1301 of the Colorado Revised Statutes.

Colorado DUI Laws

Colorado drunk driving laws are outlined in Colorado Motor Vehicles And Traffic Regulation. Under this regulation, "Driving Under the Influence" refers to the offense of operating a vehicle while intoxicated with alcohol. On the other hand, DWAI or "Driving While Ability Impaired" refers to the offense of operating a vehicle after consuming alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both. The amount of substance consumed to establish a DWAI charge is such that it makes the offending motorist unable to exercise clear judgment and control a vehicle. Under state laws, driving in either condition is a misdemeanor.

Under the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure in Title 16 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, county courts penalize and manage road traffic offenses. These courts determine the fines that a violator should pay and forward the points associated with a charge to the Motor Vehicle Division of the Colorado Department of Revenue. While the courts impose criminal penalties like fines, alcohol education, and treatment, the Department of Revenue imposes administrative penalties. Administrative penalties for road traffic offenses include the suspension or revocation of a driver's license.

DUI Penalties in Colorado

The penalty for a DUI in Colorado is determined by the offender's level of intoxication and prior convictions. Typically, however, a DUI in Colorado is a misdemeanor, and a convicted person may face the following penalties under section 42-4-1307(3) of the Motor Vehicle and Traffic Regulation Act:

  • A minimum imprisonment term in the county jail for five days and not more than one year
  • A fine not below $600 and not more than $1000
  • Forty-eight hours minimum and no more than 96 hours of mandatory valuable public service; However, the court may not suspend the minimum mandatory period of public service.
  • Revocation of driving privileges for nine months per section 44-2-125 of the Colorado Revised Statutes
  • For a BAC of 0.020% or more, the culprit may face ten days of imprisonment in the county jail but no more than a year. In this case, however, the court can determine sentencing alternatives.
  • Court-imposed probation for no more than two years with any conditions that the law permits

What Happens When You Get a DWAI in Colorado?

Under section 42-4-1301(1)(g) of the Colorado Revised Statutes, a BAC of over 0.05% but below 0.08% can lead to a DWAI charge.

When a motorist is apprehended for intoxication, the arresting officer will first make the suspect undertake a blood or breath test. Refusal to take this test may lead to severe consequences like an automatic driver's license suspension, fines, or possible jail time. Additionally, refusal to take the test may prove that the motorist is guilty.

Convictions for a DWAI depend on the number of prior offenses for a DUI or DWAI in Colorado or any other US territory. A DWAI in Colorado is a misdemeanor and the consequences for committing a DWAI for the first time under the Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation are:

  • Imprisonment of the culprit in the county jail for a minimum of two days and no more than 180 days
  • A minimum fine of $200 and no more than $500
  • A minimum of 24 hours and no more than 48 hours of valuable public service; the convicting court has no discretion to suspend the mandatory minimum term of this public service.
  • The court may also impose a maximum probation term of two years to include any conditions that the law permits.
  • Payment of a minimum surcharge fee of $100, not exceeding $500; the surcharge funds programs that help raise awareness about drunk driving and reduce the number of drunk drivers in Colorado. The State Treasurer is in charge of the surcharge which the Persistent Drunk Driver Cash Fund manages.
  • A $20 surcharge deposited in the Colorado Traumatic Brain Injury Trust Fund by the state treasurer
  • A surcharge of at least $1 and a maximum of $10 that goes to the Rural Alcohol and Substance Abuse Cash Fund
  • An appearance before a court-approved Victim Impact Panel and pay an appearance fee not exceeding $25

To contest a DWAI charge in Colorado, motorists are advised to seek the services of a legal professional. The chances of getting the charges dismissed are higher if:

  • The motorist can prove that they had a BAC of below 0.05% at the time of driving.
  • The motorist claims that drugs or alcohol did not impair their driving.
  • The defendant proves that there was no probable cause for the officer to pull the alleged offender over.
  • The defendant proves that the arrest was unlawful.

What Happens When You Get a DUI for the First Time in Colorado?

A DUI offense in Colorado is a misdemeanor, and the penalties are the same whether it is an alcohol or drug DUI. The drugs implicated include prescription and recreational drugs, and under 42-4-1301(1)(e) of the Colorado Revised Statutes, having a valid medical marijuana card is no defense.

Upon a DUI arrest, the arresting officer takes possession of the driver's license and issues a temporary permit valid for seven days from the date of issue, under section 42-2-125(5)(b)(II). The driver may apply to the DMV to fight this by requesting a hearing within seven days of the arrest. Failure to request the hearing leads to an automatic license suspension.

A qualified DUI defense attorney in Colorado can help innocent motorists circumvent punishment. The attorney may gather evidence relevant to the case and use the evidence to file a motion challenging police actions and evidence. Where the motorist is guilty of the charges, the attorney can negotiate a good deal to reduce the charges or help them avoid jail time.

What is the Penalty for a Second DUI in Colorado?

Under section 42-4-1307(5) of the Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation, penalties for second-time DUI offenders are:

  • An imprisonment term of at least ten consecutive days and no more than a year in the county jail; Colorado courts have the discretion to determine sentencing alternatives in this case
  • A minimum fine of $600 and a maximum of $1500
  • 48 hours and no more than 120 hours of valuable public service, and the court has no discretion to suspend the performance of this public service
  • Probation of two years to begin from the time of sentencing

What Happens After a Third DUI in Colorado?

For third-time offenders, section 42-4-1307(5) of the Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation provides specific consequences. The consequences for a third DUI in Colorado are:

  • A minimum of 60 consecutive days in the county jail
  • The minimum $600 fine and no more than $1500
  • A minimum of forty-eight hours of valuable public service which must not exceed one hundred and twenty hours
  • Two years probation and a suspended imprisonment sentence of one year in the county jail

In Colorado, a third DUI is a misdemeanor and not a felony. A fourth DUI is considered a felony offense under the Colorado Revised Statutes. However, in selected cases, a third DUI may result in a felony if a victim died; in this case, the offense is deemed vehicular assault under section 18-3-205 or vehicular homicide under section 18-3-106.

A third DUI attracts a two-year license suspension under section 42-2-126(3) of the Colorado Revised Statutes.

How Long Does a DUI Stay on Your Record in Colorado?

Like many other states, DUI records in Colorado stay on a person's records for life. The State of Colorado regards drug or alcohol-related offenses as lifetime offenses and all prior convictions matter for sentencing purposes.

There is no way to expunge or seal a DUI conviction record in Colorado unless the offender was a minor at the time of the offense. Hence, Colorado laws only permit the expungement of Underage Drinking and Driving(UDD) offenses and related juvenile crimes.

DUI Expungement in Colorado

Section 42-4-1301(2)(d) of the Colorado Revised Statutes makes it an offense for a person below 21 years to drink and drive. The classification of this offense is Underage Drinking and Driving(UDD), but the offender can get a Colorado DUI expunged under the following conditions:

  • If the culprit is at least 21 at the time of requesting the expungement
  • If the culprit has no other UDD convictions
  • The blood alcohol content of the culprit was below .05% at the time of committing the offense.
  • The culprit did not drive a commercial vehicle during the UDD
  • If the culprit completes all the terms of the UDD sentence, like paying required fines and community service
  • If the culprit has never had a commercial driver's license

An eligible person may file a motion in court requesting a hearing over the matter. In Colorado, expungement is the removal of juvenile, UDD, or arrest records of eligible persons. The result is that the criminal record will appear as if it does not exist, and it will not appear on subsequent background checks.

Certain persons are not eligible for expungements in Colorado, and they are:

  • Persons convicted of a felony involving unlawful sexual behavior
  • A person convicted as an aggravated or violent juvenile offender
  • A person convicted for a traffic offense or a homicide or such related crimes

How Likely is Jail Time After a First DUI in Colorado?

Jail time for a first DUI in Colorado is likely despite being a traffic misdemeanor; this is because a DUI charge under Colorado law has a statutory minimum and maximum amount of jail time.

First-time DUI offenders will have to spend anything from five days to a year in jail. A culprit can avoid this mandatory jail time by completing an alcohol education program.

What is the Average Cost of DUI in Colorado?

The Colorado Department of Transportation estimates the total cost of a DUI as $13,530. According to the department, the breakdown is as follows:

  • Towing fees set at $175
  • Court costs are set at $26
  • Car storage fee per day, set at $49.20
  • Average legal fees set at $3,650
  • Rural Alcohol & Substance Abuse Fund set at $5
  • Instruction permit set at $16.80
  • Alcohol/Drug Education/Treatment set at $1,000
  • The restricted license set at $26
  • Victim Impact Panel Program set at $50
  • PDD Surcharge Fee set at $300
  • First Conviction Fine set at $600
  • Brain Injury Fund Fee set at $20
  • Probation Supervision Fee set at $900
  • Auto Insurance Increase set at $3,600 but may vary
  • Victim Assistance Fund set at $163
  • Victim Compensation Fund set at $29
  • Ignition Interlock Rental/Service set at $2,172
  • Law Enforcement Assistance Fund set at $90
  • License Reinstatement set at $95
  • Community Service Supervision Fee set at $60

How Much is Bail for a DUI in Colorado?

Bail for a DUI in Colorado costs at least $1000 and may be more depending on the judge's discretion. If the offender is apprehended with a suspended license due to a prior DUI, the bond is often set at $10,000.

The court sets bond amounts to guarantee the offender's appearance in court at a subsequent date. If the culprit cannot post bond, they will remain in jail till the next court hearing.

How to Get My License Back After a DUI in Colorado?

The State of Colorado revokes driving licenses or privileges for persons that fail to cooperate with the chemical testing process that an officer requests on suspicion of a DUI. To reinstate a revoked, suspended, canceled, or denied license, interested individuals must undergo a process of reinstatement.

Interested persons may reinstate a drivers license in Colorado through any of the following means:

Online Reinstatement: The first step is to assess the eligibility requirements and upload the required documents. Next, the individual must pay the reinstatement fee through the online portal.

Mail Reinstatement: Mail is another way to reinstate a revoked driver's license. First, interested persons must complete a reinstatement application form. Once complete, they may mail the application and a check or money order of $95 to the specified address. The mail must also contain some specific requirements like evidence of insurance.

If an individual chooses to pay through money order, the coupon must have the individual's name and date of birth written clearly. It is best to mail the information about 30 days before the eligibility date to enable the department to complete the request on time.

The application takes about 20 business days after mailing to hear word back. The department sends a return mail with a letter of clearance once it satisfies all the requirements.

Physical Reinstatement: Individuals may request a license reinstatement in person. To initiate it, interested persons may visit a Full-Service Driver License Office with evidence of current liability insurance containing the individual's name on the policy. The applicant must also go with a $95 reinstatement fee to complete the process.

Once reinstated, the individual needs to obtain a new license which often requires a written and driving test. For an out-of-state driver, the State of Colorado demands an evaluation from an alcohol treatment center or an alcohol therapist in the person's state of residence. So, the individual must complete Level 1 or Level 2 Alcohol Education and Therapy before initiating the process.

How Does a DUI Affect Your Life in Colorado?

A DUI conviction in Colorado can profoundly affect a person's life. Even for a first DUI, it attracts hefty fines and possible jail terms. Like most states, DUI sanctions in Colorado are progressive, as the consequences get worse with every conviction.

It also attracts employment issues, as a DUI conviction affects a person's ability to drive. Also, it impacts employment since applicants are often required to disclose DUI information.

Insurance companies view DUI convictions negatively, and it can result in high insurance rates. A DUI charge or conviction can tarnish personal relationships, including close friends and family.

Can You Get Fired for a DUI in Colorado?

Yes, a DUI conviction can get a person fired even if the person avoids an extended jail stay; this is because Colorado is an employment-at-will state. Hence, employers do not need to provide an employee advance notice of termination. Essentially, if an employer frowns upon DUIs, they can fire a convicted employee with no legal consequences, except a written contract states otherwise. A DUI will also be bad for businesses and poorly reflect certain professions like commercial driving, childcare, healthcare, teaching, etc.

How Do I Find DUI Checkpoints in Colorado?

A sobriety or DUI checkpoint is a roadblock where police officers check for DUI/DWAI. While the police may stop and question every motorist that passes the checkpoints, they may only detain a motorist that shows signs of intoxication.

The Colorado Department of Transportation publishes advance notices of upcoming sobriety checkpoints, and interested persons may check the publications for relevant information. However, these roadblocks must not violate CDOT guidelines for sobriety checkpoints.

The CDOT sobriety checkpoint guidelines include:

  • The sobriety checkpoints must pose little to no inconvenience to drivers
  • Law enforcement officers must have a consistent, non-discriminatory pattern for choosing vehicles to stop
  • Such officers must give proper warning that a driver approaches a checkpoint
  • The officers must have supervision and adequate staffing
  • The checkpoint must exist in a safe location, and there must be an advance publication of such a checkpoint

Which is Worse, DUI vs. DWAI?

In Colorado, DWAI is a less severe charge than a DUI. However, it is a criminal charge with grave penalties. Not all states have provisions for this particular charge, but under Colorado law, it infers that a driver consumed alcohol or any other drug to the extent that it caused impairment.

When the BAC of a driver is 0.08% or more, they are charged with a DUI. It leads to hefty fines, depending on the nature and severity of the crime and the driving history of the offender.