Understanding DUI and DWAI penalties in Colorado

Colorado residents who are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or operating a vehicle with an impaired ability to drive may face various administrative and criminal penalties. These penalties vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case, such as whether the driver has been convicted of a previous DUI or if anyone was injured in the accident.

What is the difference between a DUI and a DWAI?

According to Colorado law, law enforcement officers can use breath and blood tests to determine a driver's blood alcohol content level. Drivers who have a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher may be charged with a DUI, while drivers with a BAC measuring between 0.05 and 0.08 percent may face DWAI charges for driving with an impaired ability. If drivers have a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher, they may be labeled as persistent drunk drivers and face stricter penalties if convicted.

Criminal versus administrative penalties

Colorado courts are responsible for setting criminal penalties for DUI and DWAI convictions, including fines and jail time, according to Colorado statutes. Administrative penalties, including suspension of driver's licenses, are handled by the Colorado Department of Revenue. In some cases, drivers may be able to negotiate the terms of their criminal penalties through plea bargaining or by agreeing to enter into an alcohol treatment program; however, administrative penalties cannot be reduced. Penalties include:

  • First DUI: A first DUI conviction may result in a nine-month driver's license suspension, a fine of up to $1,000, 48 to 96 hours of public service and up to one year in jail.
  • First DWAI: There are no administrative penalties for a first DWAI conviction; however, the driver may spend up to 180 days in jail, pay up to $500 in fines and be ordered to complete up to 48 hours of public service.
  • Second DUI or DWAI: People who commit a second offense may lose their driver's license for up to 12 months, spend anywhere from 10 days to one year in jail and pay up to $1,500 in fines. They must also complete up to 120 hours of public service.
  • Third DUI or DWAI: A third conviction may result in a 24-month driver's license suspension, a jail sentence of anywhere from 60 days to one year, a maximum fine of $1,500 and 120 hours of public service. People who have been convicted of three DUIs or DWAIs within a seven-year period may lose their driver's license for five years, according to the habitual traffic offender statute.

If the accident has caused significant injury or the death of another person, the driver may be charged with vehicular homicide or vehicular assault. Although a criminal conviction can lead to more extensive penalties, Colorado law leaves the final judgment up to the appointed judge's discretion. In some cases, drivers may not spend any time in jail.

Finding legal counsel

Whatever your specific situation may be, it is extremely important to find a knowledgeable legal representative who will ensure that your rights are upheld in a court of law. People who are convicted of a DUI may have difficulties finding employment or obtaining loans. A criminal defense lawyer can walk you through the legal process and aggressively fight your DUI charges.