Driving under the influence, also known as drunk driving or DUI, is a serious offense in Colorado. A related offense, driving while ability impaired (DWAI), is also quite serious. A DUI arrest can lead to loss of driving privileges in some cases, even if you have not been convicted of anything. A conviction for DUI or DWAI can result in jail time, a fine, further suspension of your driver’s license, and other penalties. State law does not limit DUI to the influence of alcohol. A DUI case can result from suspected impairment by marijuana or other drugs. The following is an overview of what happens when you get a DUI in Colorado. If you are facing charges of alleged DUI, you should speak to a defense attorney with knowledge of Colorado’s DUI laws.
Many DUI cases begin with a traffic stop. Police can pull someone over if they have a reasonable suspicion that a driver has committed an offense, including DUI. A police officer might allege that they saw someone driving erratically, which made them suspect DUI. If a police officer pulls someone over for a different offense, such as running a red light or speeding, they may claim they suspected DUI based on the driver’s appearance or behavior, such as slurred speech or glassy eyes. The odor of alcohol or marijuana often leads to DUI suspicion.
If a police officer suspects a driver of DUI, they will ask the driver questions to see if they show signs of intoxication. A driver is not obligated to answer any questions other than to provide their name, along with their license and registration.
An office may ask the driver to perform certain field sobriety tests. These are tests of physical coordination and other signs that someone is impaired by alcohol or drugs. Drivers do not have to submit to field sobriety tests, but refusal will not stop an officer from investigating further.
An officer may also perform a preliminary breath test on a driver suspected of DUI. Most officers have a portable breathalyzer device to determine a person’s blood alcohol content, or “BAC.” This is a measurement of ethanol, the main component of alcohol, in a person’s blood by volume.
Colorado law states that anyone driving on public roads in this state has consented to breath testing once they have been arrested for DUI. A driver who is at least 21 years old can refuse to submit to a preliminary breath test when pulled over. However, they cannot refuse a breath test at a police station once they have been arrested.
If a person’s BAC is 0.08 percent or more, Colorado law presumes that they are too impaired to operate a motor vehicle safely. This is informally known as the “legal limit” for DUI. Police can arrest a driver for DUI or DWAI even if a breathalyzer test shows BAC below that level.
If a person’s BAC is at or above the legal limit, their license will be suspended for at least nine months. The period of license suspension increases to a year if their BAC is 0.15 percent or more. The suspension is longer if it is not the person’s first offense.
If an officer reasonably believes that a driver has been driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they can arrest them and take them to the police station.
A person who has been arrested for drunk driving is required by state law to take a breathalyzer test. Refusal to take a breathalyzer test at this point can result in immediate suspension of driving privileges and other penalties, even if the person is never charged with DUI. These are known as “administrative penalties.”
The Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can suspend a person’s license for “failing” a BAC test or refusing a breathalyzer test. This can occur in a license suspension hearing, which is separate from a DUI case in a court of law. This is discussed further below.
Police may want to collect a sample of blood or urine to test BAC. Police usually need a warrant or a person’s consent to take samples of blood or urine. Blood testing often occurs when a person suspected of DUI has been in a car accident and is receiving medical attention.
A blood or urine test is the only way to test for the presence of drugs other than alcohol. Similar to how a person with a BAC of at least 0.08 percent is presumed to be impaired, Colorado recognizes 5 nanograms of THC per 100 milliliters of blood to be the “legal limit” for marijuana in a person’s system.
After a DUI arrest, prosecutors may decide to charge a person with DUI or DWAI. A DUI charge sometimes comes with other alleged offenses arising from the same incident. If the arrest occurred after an accident, prosecutors might also charge the person with reckless driving. Hopefully, the person has retained the services of a knowledgeable Colorado DUI attorney to help them understand their rights and to advocate for them with prosecutors and the court.
Prosecutors have to prove that a defendant is guilty of DUI or DWAI beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high burden of proof, which gives defense attorneys the opportunity to challenge evidence and present their clients’ cases. The judicial process may end in a plea agreement, or a DUI case might go to trial.
The consequences of a DUI conviction depend on whether a person has any prior convictions for DUI or a related offense. A first-time DUI is a misdemeanor under Colorado law. There is no mandatory jail sentence for a first DUI conviction, but a judge could sentence a person to a minimum of five days, up to a maximum of one year. Instead of jail, a court can order probation for up to two years.
The penalties increase for a second offense and again for a third or subsequent offense. A person can be charged with felony DUI if they have at least three prior convictions for DUI, DWAI, or other related offenses like vehicular assault.
A DUI conviction has more consequences than fines and jail time. Driver’s license suspension, driver’s license points, and the mandatory use of ignition interlock devices also result from a conviction.
As mentioned above, a BAC of 0.08 or above can result in license suspension, even without an actual DUI or DWAI charge. The DMV will also suspend a person’s driver’s license if they refuse a breath test or if they have been convicted of DUI.
The period of suspension for a first DUI conviction is nine months. A third or subsequent conviction results in a two-year suspension. If the person has had three convictions for major traffic offenses, including DUI, in a period of seven years, their license could be suspended for five years.
The DMV will assess “points” against people convicted of certain traffic offenses. If a person has too many points on their driving record, the DMV can suspend their license or impose other penalties. Points can also affect car insurance rates. DUI convictions add twelve points to a person’s record. DWAI convictions add eight points.
Ignition interlock devices are a condition for reinstatement of a person’s driver’s license in some cases. The device is installed in the vehicle at the driver’s expense. Before starting the vehicle, the driver must blow into the device. If the ignition interlock device detects BAC above a certain level, it prevents the vehicle from starting.
DUI cases are heard in Colorado courts. Prosecutors have the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The court has the authority to impose a sentence that includes jail time and fines. Judges run their courts very formally, with rather extensive rules of procedure.
Administrative hearings before the DMV tend to be less formal. They are similar to court cases in that the state has the burden of proof. The state only has to prove its case by a “preponderance of evidence,” meaning that it is more likely than not that a person refused a breathalyzer test or that their BAC was 0.08 percent or more.
The stakes are also lower in DMV hearings, at least compared to a DUI court case. The DMV is not deciding whether to send anyone to jail. They are only deciding whether to suspend or reinstate a person’s driver’s license.
In either type of proceeding, everyone has the right to representation by an attorney. If you need assistance with a DUI case in Colorado, you should contact a DUI attorney right away.
The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.
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