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Colorado DUI, DUI Per Se, and DWAI – Oh My!

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Colorado has different levels of criminal charges concerning operating a vehicle while under the influence of a substance. If you are arrested, you need to understand what you are facing. Do not assume all driving under the influence (DUI) crimes are the same. 

The Charges Are for Different Degrees of Intoxication or Impairment 

Under state statute, a person driving a motor vehicle:  

  • Under the influence of alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of them, commits driving under the influence (DUI). The driver is substantially incapable (mentally, physically, or both) of exercising clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in safely operating a vehicle 
  • While impaired by alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of them, commits driving while ability impaired (DWAI). The driver is affected to the slightest degree and is less able than they’d ordinarily be (mentally, physically, or both) to exercise clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in safely operating a vehicle 
  • When the person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 or more while driving or within two hours after driving commits DUI per se 

There must be evidence beyond the BAC test for DUI “substantial degree” of impairment and DWAI “slightest degree” of impairment charges. The prosecution can do this through eyewitness testimony, the fact you caused an accident or broke a rule of the road, or video from a dashboard, security, or body camera on an officer. 

All three are misdemeanors (potential jail time is less than a year), but they are class four felonies (possible jail time of two to six years) if the violation happened after three or more prior convictions involving separate and distinct incidents of: 

  • DUI 
  • DUI per se 
  • DWAI 
  • Vehicular homicide 
  • Vehicular assault 

These convictions can occur in any combination. 

How You Might Be Sentenced 

If you are convicted or plead guilty, your sentence will vary based on several factors, including: 

  • Prior vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, and driving under the influence convictions 
  • Your BAC 
  • If you were involved in a traffic accident and whether you’re at fault and if anyone was injured 
  • Whether you drove recklessly 
  • If you’ve taken steps since your arrest to address your drug or alcohol use 
  • Whether you’ve shown remorse and have taken responsibility 

If you are a first-time offender, you probably won’t be sentenced to jail time unless there are “aggravating factors” in your case: 

  • A high BAC (0.17 or higher) 
  • An accident causing an injury 
  • Driving without a license or with a suspended license
  • You were speeding 
  • A minor was in the vehicle 
  • You were convicted of multiple DUIs within a given time frame 

If your BAC was 0.20% or higher, you would serve a mandatory ten-day jail sentence even if it’s your first DUI offense. You may serve more than a year if you are convicted of other charges with your DUI because each sentence can be added together or “run consecutively.” 

You may also deal with serving community service hours, probation, substance abuse treatment, fines, fees, court costs, and surcharges. A Denver area judge may allow you to serve a jail sentence on electronic monitoring or “in-home detention.” This is more likely if it’s your first offense. 

No matter what charge you face, talk to a DUI defense attorney right away to learn about your rights and the most effective ways to defend them, your freedom, and your future. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.