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What does DWAI stand for in Colorado?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jun 19, 2019 | 0 Comments

DWAI stands for the Colorado crime of "driving while ability impaired" (42-4-1301 (1)(g)). In Colorado, people commit DWAI if they are operating a motor vehicle while they are impaired by drugs or alcohol in "the slightest degree."

DUI per se versus DWAI

The Colorado crime of DUI per se (42-4-1301(2)(a)) occurs when a person drives with a blood alcohol content of at least .08%. It makes no difference if the driver did not feel drunk or was driving as safely as a person does with no BAC.

In contrast, a person can be guilty of DWAI even if his/her BAC is very low. As long as a driver is exhibiting the slightest degree of impairment from alcohol (or drugs), he/she can be convicted of DWAI.

Example: Tommy drinks half a glass of champagne at dinner. But since he is a lightweight, he has trouble keeping control of the car while driving home in Las Vegas. A policeman pulls him over for crossing the median and administers a preliminary breath test, which reads .06%.

In the above example, the policeman will probably arrest Tommy for DWAI. His BAC was less than .08%, so he could not be guilty of DUI per se. But since he was seemingly impaired by champagne and had a BAC not far from the legal limit, there may be sufficient evidence to convict him of DWAI.

In general, a person's ability to drive is compromised when their BAC exceeds .05%.

DWAI penalties

Colorado's DWAI punishments increase with each successive offense. The first three times are prosecuted as misdemeanors. The fourth or successive offense is a Colorado class 4 felony.

First-time offense

  • 2 days to 180 days in jail,
  • A fine of $200 to 500,
  • 24 to 48 hours of community service, and
  • 8 points on the DMV driving record.

Second-time offense 

  • 10 days to 1 year in jail (10 days are mandatory),
  • A fine of $600 to $1,500,
  • 48 to 120 hours of community service, and
  • 8 points on the DMV driving record

Third-time offense 

  • 10 days to 1 year in jail (10 days are mandatory),
  • A fine of $600 to $1,500,
  • 48 to 120 hours of community service, and
  • 8 points on the DMV driving record

Fourth-time or successive offense

DWAI defenses

There are many possible ways to fight Colorado DWAI charges depending on the unique facts of the case. Typical defenses include: 

  • The defendant's BAC was less than .05% when he/she was driving, which suggests that he/she was not impaired;
  • The officer had no probable cause for pulling the defendant over;
  • The police failed to administer the field sobriety tests correctly;
  • The defendant was arrested solely because he/she was carrying a medical marijuana I.D. card;
  • The state committed misconduct while administering the breath or blood test; 
  • The defendant suffered from a medical condition that caused him/her to appear impaired when he/she was not or caused an inaccurately high BAC reading

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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