What Are the New Colorado DUI Laws?
Colorado has strict DUI and DWAI laws to deter drivers from driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Those who break the rules face harsh penalties upon being convicted of a DUI offense. So, familiarizing yourself with the law is crucial to avoid being caught on the wrong side.
However, if you face DUI or DWAI charges, you can fight to have the charges dropped or reduced to protect your rights, freedom, and future. Let our experienced attorneys for drunk driving cases near you take you through the definitive guide to DUI laws and penalties.
DUI is defined as operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both. You can be charged with a DUI for having any alcohol content in the blood.
DUI Per Se
DUI Per Se is a subcategory of DUI, and the charges apply if you take a sobriety test that shows a BAC level higher than the legal limit of 0.08%. The law is applicable even if you don’t have any visible indicators of impaired driving. That means no other impairment evidence is necessary to show your BAC was more than 0.08%.
DWAI stands for “driving while ability impaired.” A person is considered to be impaired if their ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired to the slightest degree by drugs or alcohol or both. A person over 21 can be charged with driving while ability impaired if they have a BAC of between 0.05 and 0.08%. A driver under 21 can be charged with a DWAI if their BAC is 0.02 or more.
DUI, DUI Per Se, and DWAI charges apply to alcohol and drugs, meaning that you can be convicted of the charges for being under the influence of controlled substances such as prescription drugs, illegal drugs, toxic vapors, and aerosols. So, you may want to avoid operating a vehicle when on treatment with medication that may impair your judgment.
While medical and recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, operating a vehicle under its influence is illegal. The penalties for a marijuana DUI charge are the same as for an alcohol DUI.
Fighting the charges can be complex, but skilled criminal defense attorneys in Colorado Springs can help you create a defense strategy that works.
What Are the Two Main Categories of DUI Charges in Colorado?
If you’re facing a DUI or DWAI charge, it’s important to understand the multiple laws that govern the offense. Colorado Springs DUI lawyers explain:
- Zero Tolerance Law
- Express Consent Law
i) Zero Tolerance Law
In Colorado, drivers over 21 with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of over 0.08% can be convicted of a DUI. The Zero Tolerance policy mainly affects drivers under 21, with a BAC of 0.02%. Teenage drivers are subjected to Underage Drinking and Driving offenses (UDD).
ii) Express Consent Law in Colorado
If you’re arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Colorado, law enforcement will require you to take a chemical test. That’s according to the Express Consent law, which states that by driving in the State of Colorado, you have given your express consent to submit to a chemical test of your blood or breath if law enforcement suspects that you are driving impaired.
As long as you hold a valid driver’s license in Colorado, you have given express consent to submit to chemical tests if a police officer has probable cause to believe you were driving under the influence or driving while ability impaired.
While the tests are required, some people refuse to take them, leading to significantly hefty consequences, even if you’re later found not guilty of a DUI offense. If the police arrest you for a DUI and you wish to decline the sobriety test, contact experienced DUI attorneys in Colorado immediately. They can advise you on your legal rights and options.
What Happens if Arrested for a DUI in Colorado?
Two processes follow a DUI arrest in Colorado:
1. The Administrative Process
Once arrested for a DUI in Colorado, the Division of Motor Vehicles will suspend your license within seven days of receiving proof of a test of your blood or breath that shows a BAC of above .08 within 2 hours of driving. The process is an administrative suspension and occurs by default. However, you can request a hearing within these seven days to address the suspension.
If you took a breath test or refused testing, you will have seven days from the date of your arrest to request your hearing with the DMV. You will be given an express consent affidavit that may act as a temporary permit (if the box is checked) for 7 days after your arrest. Even if you did not receive this paperwork, or somehow lost it, you need to request this hearing within seven days anyway.
If you took a blood test, your suspension notice will be mailed to you. The deadline to request the hearing will be on the suspension notice that DMV sends to you. Make sure the DMV has your proper address on file, or you may miss your opportunity to request a hearing.
During the hearing, your DUI attorneys in Colorado Springs can help you address issues such as whether your BAC was more than 0.08 while driving, whether you actually refused a sobriety test, whether the officer had probable cause to arrest you or reasonable suspicion to detain you. If the hearing officer decides against you, the suspension takes effect.
The length of the license suspension depends on whether you’ve had DUI charges before and your BAC level for the current offense. A past DUI charge, conviction, or higher BAC could result in a longer administrative suspension.
Can I Request Reinstatement of My Driver’s License?
You could be eligible for early or immediate license reinstatement if you’re a Colorado resident and 21 years or older. However, you must meet certain conditions to qualify, such as installing an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.
2. The Criminal Process
The criminal process is separate from the administrative one, with your case being referred to the District Attorney. You will receive a summon to attend a court hearing, where you must decide whether to plead guilty or not to the charges.
If you plead not guilty and yet are convicted, the court could subject you to various penalties depending on the severity of the offense and several other factors. It’s best to have the legal representation of aggressive criminal defense attorneys in Colorado Springs to defend you against the harsh penalties that could adversely affect your life.
Your lawyers could also advise you to plead your offense to a less severe crime, such as reckless driving to get less harsh penalties. You may also be eligible to participate in a Pre-Trial Adult Diversion Program to avoid a criminal record if you meet specific requirements such as completing alcohol and drug counseling.
What Are the Penalties for DUI in Colorado?
The penalties for a DUI charge in Colorado depend on the type of offense and whether you have prior convictions. The penalties for a DUI and DUI Per Se conviction are the same, each influenced by the number of previous offenses. The first three DUI offenses are charged as misdemeanors, while the fourth and subsequent ones are felonies.
DWAI penalties follow the same structure as DUI penalties, increasing as the number of convictions increases. DWAIs also attract DMV points, which track your demerits against your license. If you accumulate 12 or more points within a year or 18 or more points within two years, the DMV will suspend your license.
The chart below provides a summary of the penalties you risk getting with each DUI conviction you get:
Colorado DUI Penalties
|Jail Term Range
|Mandatory Jail Time
|Max Jail Time
|$200 – $500
|2 days – 180 days
|Up to 2 years
|$600 – $1,000
|5 days – 1 year
|Up to 2 years
|1st Alcohol Conviction with a BAC >.200
|$600 – $1,000
|10 days – 1 year
|Up to 2 years
|2nd Offense – outside of 5 years
|$600 – $1,500
|10 days – 1 year
|2nd Offense – within 5 years
|$600 – $1,500
|10 days – 1 year
|10 days consecutive
|3rd or Subsequent Offense
|$600 – $1,500
|60 days – 1 year
|160 days consecutive
|4th or Subsequent (Felony DUI or DWAI)
|2 years – 6 years
|90-180 days jail or 120 days – 2 years Alternative Sentencing
|At least 2 years
In addition to these penalties, the court could subject you to additional costs, such as paying the victim restitution fund and expenses associated with the installation of the ignition interlock device. The judge will also likely require you to undergo public service, probation, and drug and alcohol counseling, depending on the specific details of the charges.
These penalties could be devastating, with imprisonment taking away precious time you could otherwise spend at work or with your family. A DUI conviction also ruins your reputation and leads to significant losses in fines. Skilled DUI lawyers in Colorado Springs could help you beat the charges to have them reduced or dropped altogether.
Penalties for Causing Serious Injury or Death
You can be charged with one of two types of felonies if your DUI results in the serious injury or death of another person:
Vehicular assault is when you drive recklessly or operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There doesn’t need to be intent on your part to hurt someone, as all that matters is that your actions caused severe injury to another.
The offense is a Class 4 felony which attracts the following penalties:
- Up to 6 years in prison
- Fines as much as $500,000
Vehicular homicide is when you operate a vehicle recklessly or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, causing the death of another person. It is a Class 3 felony with the following penalties:
- Up to 12 years in prison
- Fines as much as $750,000
Consult skilled Colorado Springs DUI attorneys before your trial. They can help you create a solid defense strategy to beat the charges.
What is the New Waiting Period to Apply for Ignition Interlock Restricted License?
Under the old law, you’d have to wait 30 days after a license suspension before being allowed to apply for a restricted license. A new law was enacted as of January 1, 2023, allowing people convicted of a DUI to apply for an ignition interlock restricted license upon conviction. However, if you refused testing, you will still be required to complete a 60-day waiting period before applying for an interlock-restricted license. Additionally, those with out-of-state driver licenses are still required to serve the entire period of the suspension.
The restricted license requires ignition interlock devices, which are breathalyzers that take your BAC reading before the car can turn on. The new law also establishes a 90-day monitoring period if you have three or more DUIs, during which you must wear a sobriety-tracking device.
Can I Get DUI Charges Dropped in Colorado?
Fighting DUI charges in Colorado is often complex, but skilled criminal defense lawyers can help you. They have the skills and knowledge to introduce reasonable doubt in your guilt to convince the jury of your innocence. Possible defenses to Colorado DUI charges include the following:
Your DUI lawyer could help you introduce the following BAC-related arguments to defend you against the charges:
- Rising BAC content as the body metabolized the alcohol between the time you were driving and when you got tested
- DUI blood testing errors such as blood contamination or fermentation of your blood
- Inconsistencies in the results from independent testing of your blood
- Failure by the laboratory to comply with Colorado blood testing procedures, such as improper mixing of preservatives or failure to maintain proper records
- Diet or medical condition that led to a false BAC, for example, acid reflux or heartburn
- Residual mouth alcohol that affected DUI breath tests
- DUI breath testing errors based on the body temperature or interference from background radiation
- Failure of the Officer to adhere to the proper breath-testing procedures
Lack of Reasonable Suspicion to Detain You or Probable Cause for Your Arrest
A law enforcement officer must have reasonable suspicion before they can:
- Pull you over for a traffic violation or
- Detain you for a DUI investigation
They also must have probable cause before they can:
- Arrest you for a DUI, DWAI, UDD or
- Require you to take an evidentiary chemical test
If there was no reasonable suspicion to pull you over and detain you for a DUI investigation, then any evidence the police obtained from the illegal traffic stop or detention should be suppressed. Consequently, evidence of your impairment or intoxication, and likely the entire case, may be thrown out of court.
Miranda Rights Violation
A police officer must advise you of your Miranda rights if:
- They have arrested you and
- They are conducting a custodial interrogation
A custodial interrogation happens when an officer asks questions to solicit incriminating responses after arresting you. When the police haven’t read your Miranda rights, anything you say should be excluded from the evidence, which could have your case reduced or dismissed. Let your lawyer know if the officers violated your Miranda rights.
Can I Have a DUI Charge Reduced in Colorado?
Depending on the severity of your DUI or DWAI charges, your attorneys may help you get a plea deal from the prosecutor. This option allows you to plead guilty to a lesser charge, deferred sentence, or diversion program. However, getting an offer to a reduced charge or alternative sentencing program may be difficult.
A reduced charge will minimize the damage to your criminal record, and often comes in the form of a reduced charge of DWAI or reckless driving from DUI. While many people have heard and often repeat the term “wet-reckless” to describe a reduced DUI plea, a plea of reckless in Colorado DUI cases is a more rare occurrence because of the statutory requirement that the DA go on record and admit that they are likely not able to prove DUI or DWAI at trial. This limits the range of “reduced” plea options in Colorado.
Alternatively, your attorney may be able to negotiate a deferred sentence, which requires a plea of guilty but can ultimately be removed from your record. In some jurisdictions, diversion programs are available as well that do not require a plea of guilty, but do require the defendant to complete alcohol classes and public service. The options that will be available in your case will depend on your specific circumstances as well as which options are available in the county where you are charged.
The Implication of a Reckless Driving Conviction
While a reckless driving conviction could be better than a DUI or DWAI conviction, it still has significant implications. The law in Colorado defines reckless driving as driving a motor vehicle, low-power scooter, electric-assisted bicycle, or bicycle in a manner that indicates a wanton or willful disregard for people or property.
This kind of driving is considered dangerous and is associated with behavior that leads to severe accidents. It is a Class 2 traffic misdemeanor, a significant traffic offense in Colorado. Upon conviction, you risk the following penalties:
- 8 DMV points against your motor vehicle record
- 10 to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $300 for a first offense
- 10 days to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for a second offense
Remember that receiving a “wet reckless” plea offer doesn’t do away with or change any previous license suspensions or revocations imposed by the DMV because of a high BAC while driving or refusal to take a chemical test.
Consult experienced DUI attorneys in Colorado Springs for more details on the implications of pleading guilty to reckless driving. They can review all the facts associated with your case and determine if a wet reckless plea bargain will be possible for you and whether it is the most suitable option.
How Long Will a DUI Stay on My Record?
In Colorado, a DUI conviction will stay on your criminal record indefinitely, meaning it can follow you forever. The impact of a DUI record depends on how long the conviction happened and other factors, as discussed below:
When and How a Prior DUI Matters
If a DUI offense happened within the past five years, any subsequent DUI case would count against you when determining penalties for a subsequent violation upon conviction. If you have more extensive prior DUIs, such as three significant convictions, the lookback period may be extended to seven years when determining potential penalties.
The impact of having prior DUIs on your record extends beyond the court. Potential employers can find out about your history and run a background check, potentially limiting your job opportunities.
Colorado’s DUI Lookback Periods
Colorado doesn’t have a limit to its lookback period for DUIs, but it’s essential to know the following:
- DUIs within five years of each other can be associated with harsher penalties. The five-year window period is a critical time frame in DUI cases involving priors as it could determine if harsher penalties will come into play.
- Out-of-state DUI convictions count against your current DUI charge for sentencing purposes.
- Even “old” DUI convictions count.
Can I Have My DUI or DWAI Conviction Sealed?
DUI or DWAI convictions in Colorado cannot be sealed under state law. However, if the charges are dismissed, you can have them sealed. This is true even if the case is dismissed due to a deferred judgment. Your lawyer can petition the court on your behalf to have the charges sealed the right way.
An Experienced Legal Professional Helping You Navigate Colorado DUI and DWAI Laws
Colorado DUI laws are strict, and the penalties upon a conviction can be devastating. Skilled Colorado Springs lawyers can help you determine if it’s possible to walk away without being found guilty or your options to have the charges reduced. They are knowledgeable and have the skills to help you navigate the complex criminal justice system to protect your rights and future.
Joyner Law is a reputable criminal defense law firm that has clients’ best interests at heart. If you’re facing DUI charges, don’t let a past mistake define your future or prevent you from living your best life. We have skilled DUI attorneys to help you through your DUI case. Call us at (719) 294-0566 to schedule a FREE case assessment.