In Colorado, driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs is a misdemeanor criminal offense. A first time DUI conviction will result in a suspended license, fines, and a criminal record. By definition, a 1st offense DUI is when one in which motorist has no prior DUI convictions in Colorado or any other U.S. state or territory.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:
- 1. What are the penalties for a first time DUI in Colorado?
- 1.1. Are the penalties the same for an alcohol DUI and drug DUI?
- 2. Will I lose my license after my first DUI in Colorado?
- 3. What if I have a DUI in another state?
- 4. What is the lookback period for prior DUIs in Colorado?
- 5. Does a DUI result in a criminal record?
- 6. Can a lawyer help me fight a first time DUI in Colorado?
The penalties for a DUI in Colorado depend on how many drunk driving convictions the accused has and their level of alcohol. A DUI is a misdemeanor offense.1 A conviction for a first-time DUI can include:
- From 5 days up to 1 year in jail,
- A fine of up to $1,000,
- Revocation of your license for 9-months,
- Community service for up to 96 hours, and
- Alcohol education classes.
A driver with a BAC of 0.08% or higher can face a DUI per se charge. However, even with a lower BAC or no chemical test results, a driver can face charges for driving while ability impaired (DWAI), based on the observations of police.2 The penalties for a DWAI conviction are slightly lower than for a DUI, including:
- From 2 days up to 180 days in jail,
- A fine of up to $500,
- 8 points against your license, and
- Community service for up to 48 hours.
Note that each successive DUI conviction will trigger harsher penalties. A second offense DUI in Colorado will entail stiffer penalties than a first offense, and a third offense DUI in Colorado entails still harsher penalties.
High Alcohol DUI
An individual with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) 0.15% or above will be classified as a “persistent drunk driver.” There are increased penalties for drivers with a high blood alcohol content, including Level II alcohol education classes.3
Even if the accused has never been arrested before, he or she will be considered a persistent drunk driver with BAC of 0.15% or higher. A high blood alcohol content DUI may require a mandatory ignition interlock device (IID) for at least 2 years to have the driver's license reinstated.4
Alcohol Education Classes and Treatment
Alcohol education courses may be a required condition of a deferred sentence and may be required to get your license reinstated. Most first-time DUIs in Colorado require a Level I alcohol education class. A high alcohol DUI or refusal to take a chemical test requires a Level II alcohol education class.
Alcohol Education and Treatment Program
Hours of Alcohol and Drug Education
Length of Treatment
Cost to the Participant
Minimum 12 hours
52 hours (26 Sessions)
In addition to criminal penalties and losing your license, drivers convicted of a DUI or DWAI will generally have much higher car insurance for years to come.
The penalties for a DUI can be the same if the driver was under the influence of any alcohol, drugs, or the combination of alcohol and drugs. Drugs include illegal “street” drugs like heroin or methamphetamines, as well as medical marijuana and prescription drugs.5
Just because recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado does not mean it is legal to drive under the influence of marijuana. Having a valid medical marijuana card is not a defense to drug DUI charges.6
There is a presumption that a driver under the influence of marijuana is impaired if a chemical test shows 5 nanograms or more of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per milliliter. But, a police officer can still arrest you for driving while impaired whatever the level of THC in your blood.7
If you do not request a DMV hearing within 7 days after a DUI arrest, your license will be automatically suspended. The Colorado DMV will suspend your Colorado driver's license after a DUI arrest, even if you are later found “not guilty.”
After a DUI arrest, a law enforcement officer will take possession of your driver's license and issue a temporary permit that is valid for seven (7) days after the date of issuance.8
The only way to fight to keep your license is to request a hearing in writing within 7 days after an arrest.9
After a first-time DUI, your license may be suspended for 9 months. If you were convicted of a DWAI, you may be able to keep your license. However, a DWAI adds 8 points to your DMV record. If you have 12 or more points in a 12-month period, you may have your license suspended.10
Refusing a Chemical Test
You can also lose your license for refusing a chemical test in Colorado, whether or not you are convicted of a DUI. Under Colorado's Express Consent Law, any driver is required to consent to a chemical test if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe the driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs.11
Refusing a chemical test after a DUI arrest will be admissible as evidence of guilt in your drunk driving trial.12
Even if you are not convicted of a DUI, the penalties for refusing a chemical test in Colorado include:
- A one-year automatic suspension of your Colorado driver's license,
- Designation as a Colorado “persistent drunk driver" (PDD), even for a first-time DUI arrest,13
- Mandatory alcohol education and treatment program,14
- Ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle for at least one year after your driving privileges are reinstated,15 and
- SR-22 insurance.16
Reinstatement of Driving Privileges
Drivers can have their driving privileges reinstated early instead of waiting out the 9-months suspension period. To have your license reinstated early, you have to serve one month of the suspension and complete the alcohol education course. Then drivers can be allowed to drive if they participate in the Ignition Interlock program.17
An ignition interlock device (IID) in Colorado works like a breathalyzer for your car. The IID requires the driver to blow a clean (alcohol-free) breath into the device to start the car. The IID also requires regular rolling samples while the vehicle is operating. Any failed tests will be logged and reported.
Early reinstatement after a first-time DUI can require an IID installed in the driver's vehicle for at least 8 months. Yet, any excessive breath tests, IID interruption, or attempted circumvention can increase the penalties and license restrictions.18
If you have a prior conviction for a DUI in another state, it will count as a prior conviction for a DUI in Colorado.19
For the purposes of counting DUI convictions, a person is deemed to have a prior conviction for a:
- DUI per se
- Vehicular assault involving drugs or alcohol (C.R.S. 18-3-205)
- Vehicular homicide involving drugs or alcohol (C.R.S. 18-3-106)
This includes a conviction for any of the above offenses in “under the laws of any other state, the United States, or any territory subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, of an act that, if committed within this state, would constitute any of these offenses.”20
For example, Herbert is a 65-year-old man who has lived in Littleton, Colorado for the past 30 years. When Herbert was 21-years-old, he got arrested for a DUI in Laguna Beach, California, and pleaded guilty to drunk driving.
44 years later, Herbert is pulled over for an improper lane change in Littleton. The officer smells alcohol on Herbert's breath and he is arrested for drunk driving. Even though Herbert's prior DUI was more than 40 years ago in a different state, prosecutors would likely charge Herbert with a 2nd time DUI in Colorado.
Many states have a “lookback period” or “washout period” for considering prior drunk driving offenses. This is the amount of time to look back to determine if the driver has a prior DUI. Colorado does not have a limited lookback period for prior DUIs. Any prior DUI in any U.S. state or territory will be a prior DUI.21
For example, if a driver has a prior DUI conviction that is 10-years or older, it can still be considered as a prior DUI. However, a judge may consider the amount of time that has passed in the court's discretion when it comes to sentencing. If a judge has discretion in handing down a sentence, your defense attorney can argue for a more lenient sentence if the prior DUI occurred many years prior.
A conviction for a first-time DUI will result in a misdemeanor criminal record in Colorado. In most cases, an adult cannot have their DUI expunged or have their criminal record sealed.
Unlike other states, Colorado generally does not provide for expungement or sealing criminal records except for minors prosecuted in juvenile court.
Your best chance to avoid a criminal record for a drunk driving arrest is to fight the criminal charges in court. This generally requires experienced criminal defense lawyers with a successful record of fighting Colorado DUI changes.
An experienced DUI defense lawyer can help you fight a Colorado DUI first offense. There are a number of possible defenses to DUI charges, depending on the specific facts of your case.
If you have been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs, you should contact a Colorado DUI attorney as soon as possible. Remember, you only have 7 days to request a hearing to keep your license. A DUI case can take time to investigate and research, involving:
Building your case begins with gathering evidence. This includes:
- Locating potential witnesses
- Interviewing witnesses
- Obtaining video and audio evidence of your traffic stop
- Taking photographs of the alleged crime scene
- Obtaining arrest records
- Reviewing chemical test results
- Determining if police have properly calibrated and maintained testing equipment
An experienced Colorado DUI attorney will then use the evidence gathered as the basis for legal research and motion writing to support your case.
For example, your lawyer can file motions to challenge police actions and evidence. This includes filing motions to suppress evidence based on:
- Improper breath testing procedures
- Breath testing errors
- Medical conditions that lead to a false BAC result
- Improper blood testing procedures
- “Rising blood alcohol”
- No probable cause for a traffic stop
- No probable cause for a chemical test
- Miranda rights violations
An experienced Colorado DUI defense lawyer also understands how to fight to get you the best deal you can get from the prosecutor. Most drunk driving cases don't go to trial. Negotiating for a good deal can help you avoid possible jail time and reduce your criminal charges. In some cases, an individual facing a 1st time DUI can get the charges reduced to “reckless driving,” and avoid a DUI conviction.
Call us for help...
If you have been arrested for your first Colorado DUI or other Colorado drunk driving offense, please contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group. Our caring Colorado defense attorneys have many years of experience representing clients who have been charged with DUIs involving alcohol or drugs. We are among the best Colorado criminal defense attorneys to call. Contact us today for a free consultation by phone or in-person or in our Denver law office.
Arrested in Nevada? See our article on DUI firsts in Nevada.
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(1)(a)
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(1)(b)
- C.R.S. 42-1-102(68.5)
- C.R.S. 42-2-126(4)(d)(II)(A)
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(1)(a)
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(1)(e)
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(6)(a)(IV)
- C.R.S. 42-2-125(5)(b)(II)
- C.R.S. 42-2-125(5)(b)
- C.R.S. 42-2-127 - Authority to suspend license.
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301.1 Expressed consent for the taking of blood, breath, urine, or saliva sample - testing.
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(6)(d)
- C.R.S. 42-1-102(68.5)(a) (“‘Persistent drunk driver' means any person who… (IV) Refuses to take or complete, or to cooperate in the completing of, a test of his or her blood, breath, saliva, or urine as required by sections C.R.S. 18-3-106(4) or 18-3-205(4), or section 42-4-1301.1(2).”)
- C.R.S. 42-2-126(B)
- C.R.S. 42-2-132.5
- See Colorado Department of Revenue, Division of Motor Vehicles, SR-22 and Insurance Information.
- C.R.S. 42-2-132.5(4)(II)(A)
- C.R.S. 42-2-132.5(7) - Licensing sanctions for violating the interlock restrictions.
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(1)(j)