DUI laws in Colorado

DUI laws in Colorado

by Corie Lynn Rosen, December 2009

With several subtly distinguishable legal categories, the state of Colorado sees driving under the influence as a somewhat nuanced offense. Like nearly every other state, a driving under the influence offense in Colorado will trigger both a criminal case and a Department of Motor Vehicles, or DMV, administrative case. However, Colorado has some prosecutorial features that render it somewhat, if not wholly unique, at least in certain of its practices.

A Colorado defendant can be sure he will be charged criminally. However, depending in his blood alcohol, or BAC, level, he may be charged with either driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while ability impaired (DWAI). A DWAI is a lower level offense and is usually charged only when the BAC of the arrestee is .05% or lower. Because Colorado differentiates the level of the offense based on BAC, the results of a chemical test may be critical to any given case.

Additionally, Colorado distinguishes between per se violations and ordinary DUI charges. A per se charge means that a person has violated the per se rule for blood alcohol level. In Colorado the per se violation level is .08%. If a person's blood alcohol is at or exceeds the .08% level, he or she will be found per se guilty of driving under the influence. No additional information is needed in a per se violation case.

An ordinary DUI charge is different from a per se violation. In the ordinary DUI context, a court will look to evidence of whether or not the arrestee was affected by an intoxicant to such an extent that his ability to control the vehicle was impaired and could not reasonably exercise his judgment, care, or control in driving the vehicle.

It is worth noting that the DWAI offense, while a lesser offense with a lesser punishment, is much easier to prove. The state need only demonstrate that the arrestee was slightly impaired due to the substance in question. If the person is less able to drive as he or she ordinarily would, even if the difference is seemingly tiny, he or she may be convicted of a DWAI.

Like many other states, Colorado imposes severe criminal penalties for a driving under the influence offense. Colorado, like many states, correlates the level of punishment with the degree of intoxication of the arrestee. A first offense is punishable by up to one year in jail and a thousand dollar fine. Additionally, the court may require alcohol counseling, education, and/or community service as part of a sentence. Second and third offenses require jail time and have much higher maximum sentences, in addition to enhanced alcohol counseling and education requirements.

Colorado courts also use probation as a means of punishment. A first offense can include up to two years of probation. Because of the severe implications of a probation sentence, although seemingly less unpleasant than jail time, probation can be equally burdensome, in some cases probation may impair the individual more than his jail sentence.