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What Does It Mean to be a Habitual Traffic Offender in Colorado?

People often think that being convicted of a DUI is the only serious crime related to driving that they can be charged with. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. If you meet certain criteria, you will be designated a habitual traffic offender, which can carry serious consequences. If you or a loved one is facing this difficult situation, it’s essential to contact an attorney who is experienced in handling these types of cases. Attorney Kevin Churchill from Churchill Criminal Defense is always here to help you. Contact us today at 303-832-9000 or use our easy online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

A driver will be designated a “habitual traffic offender” in Colorado if they receive convictions for three serious driving offenses within seven years. Three convictions for any of the following serious traffic offenses within a 7-year period will result in the loss of your license to drive for 5 years:

  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI). This includes DUIs related to drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both. It doesn’t matter what your blood alcohol content (BAC) was; if you’re convicted of a DUI, it will count toward your being designated a habitual traffic offender.
  • Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI): This is a less serious charge than a DUI, but it can still carry severe consequences. Whether you’ve been convicted of a DUI or a DWAI, it will count as a serious driving offense.
  • Driving Under Revocation: If your license has been revoked and you decide to drive anyway, this could get you in serious trouble.
  • Reckless Driving: While reckless driving on its own may not seem like that big of a deal, if you have other traffic or DUI-related offenses, you could find yourself facing severe consequences.
  • Vehicular Assault
  • Vehicular Homicide

What Exactly Does it Mean to be a Habitual Traffic Offender?

In the state of Colorado, being labeled a habitual traffic offender (HTO) carries substantial penalties. You can be designated a habitual traffic offender by having convictions for too many major traffic offenses or for incurring too many points on your license. It’s also important to note that some of the offenses that can lead you to being designated a habitual traffic offender can bring their own consequences in addition to the HTO designation.

For example, if you’re caught driving while on a suspended license, this is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and you could be sentenced to jail time.

In some circumstances, crimes and traffic infractions that you were found guilty of outside of Colorado will be counted against you. Typically, the crimes and infractions that will be counted even if you were out of state include the following:

  • DUI/DUI per se
  • DWAI
  • Reckless driving
  • Driving under restraint (driving under revocation or suspension)
  • Vehicular assault
  • Vehicular homicide
  • Manslaughter related to a motor vehicle incident
  • Criminally negligent homicide that is related to a motor vehicle incident

If Committing Two Offenses Together, It Only Counts As One

If you’re arrested for driving under the influence and you’re also given a ticket for reckless driving, this doesn’t count as two strikes against you in regards to a habitual traffic offender designation. As long as it was on the same day and the offenses were committed together, they will only count against you one time.

After The Five Years Has Concluded

Even after the five-year license suspension is concluded, you will still be designated a habitual traffic offender until you take certain actions. You will have to reinstate your license with the Colorado DMV in order for the designation to be lifted.

In some circumstances, you might be eligible to have your license reinstated before the end of five years. This is a situation an experienced attorney can help you determine with. It’s essential to make sure you choose someone who has handled these types of cases before, as they can be complex and complicated. The difficulty of not having a driver’s license for five years can be a significant detriment to the daily lives of most people. An experienced attorney can help you avoid those consequences.

A common way for a person to get into danger of HTO problems is to drive while they are under revocation for a DUI offense. As you can see, a conviction for Driving Under Revocation will be considered one of the three strikes toward reaching Habitual Traffic Offender status. In this way, a person can accumulate two of their three strikes in a short period of time should they try to drive and get stopped after a first DUI offense.

You can also be designated an HTO for receiving a large number of less serious traffic charges. For example, 10 or more convictions for violations that are four points or more, or 18 convictions for three points or more, within five years, will result in you being designated a Habitual Traffic Offender.

The possible penalties for Driving Under Revocation increase once a person has already been designated a Habitual Traffic Offender. A first offense could see penalties up to 18 months in the county jail. If a person is found to be driving under the influence while on HTO status, the case may be charged as a Class Six Felony, and could result in a sentence to the Colorado Department of Corrections. The judge must also fine you between $1,000 and $100,000. The judge will consider the prior offenses that led to your being placed on HTO status, and this could lead to harsh penalties.

A five-year license revocation is an extraordinary penalty that is certain to cause harm to anyone’s livelihood. One of the critical ways a Denver DUI lawyer helps clients to avoid this hazardous outcome is to prevent clients from receiving the convictions that count as HTO strikes to begin with. Once a conviction for one of the offenses listed above is entered in court, there is no way to remove it. And likewise, there is no way to negotiate a different outcome with the DMV – the five-year penalty is set in stone. This is why it is critical to avoid convictions for serious driving offenses at all cost, and why you should never plead guilty without first obtaining experienced representation from an attorney that specializes in Colorado DUI defense cases.

If you have been charged with HTO, or are in danger of being designated HTO, please call our office for a free consultation regarding what can be done to protect your driving privileges. And again, never plead guilty to any serious traffic offense without obtaining advice from a qualified Colorado attorney that practices in this very specialized field. Having an experienced DUI defense attorney will help you to minimize the penalties that you face at sentencing. If you cannot avoid a conviction for an HTO offense, we will fight to keep you out of jail, and present your situation in the best possible light to the judge.

Legal Defenses to Being Labeled a Habitual Traffic Offender

1. Errors on your DMV driving record

If you and your lawyer can present evidence that there is a mistake on your driving record that would prevent you from being designated as a habitual traffic offender, this is a valid and effective legal defense to raise with the court.

2. You weren’t driving

This is a particularly effective defense for a DUI conviction that would prevent your being labeled a habitual traffic offender. If you are charged with a DUI but can show that you weren’t driving, this could prevent you from incurring this designation. This defense only works in some circumstances. For example, if the police pull you over and there’s no one else in the car with you and you’re arrested for a DUI, this defense isn’t one that is likely to succeed. However, if there is an accident and there are multiple people at the scene and there were multiple people in the car that you in, it might be difficult for the police to determine who was actually driving the car. Even if they assume it was you, you may be able to raise a valid defense that you weren’t the one driving and therefore shouldn’t be convicted of a DUI or labeled a habitual traffic offender.

3. Challenging all traffic infractions

This is more of a preventative measure that many people don’t consider. If you’re pulled over for speeding or running a red light and you are facing points on your license, you might not think it’s that big of a deal. Rather than speaking with a lawyer or going to traffic court to try to fight the violation, you might find it easier to just pay the fine and take the points. This is not a good idea, though, because even the smallest infractions can add up and require you to be classified as a designated a habitual traffic offender. Anytime you’re given a ticket for a traffic violation, you should consider contacting an experienced attorney who can help defend you against the infraction.

You Must Be Found Guilty

It’s important to note that in order to be designated a habitual traffic offender, you must be found guilty of the crimes or traffic infractions. It’s not enough to simply be charged with multiple infractions within a seven-year period.

Denver lawyer Kevin Churchill handles all DUI related charges including habitual traffic offender violations. A habitual traffic offender designation carries a 5-year driver’s license revocation with no possibility of getting a probationary license. This can be devastating to individuals and families who are struggling to get back on their feet after a DUI arrest. A DUI lawyer can help you to avoid this consequence through effective defense representation. Contact us today at 303-832-9000 or use our easy online contact form to schedule a free consultation.