In Colorado, driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs is a misdemeanor criminal offense. A first time DUI in Colorado can result in a suspended license, fines, and a criminal record. You only have 7 days after a DUI arrest to request a Colorado DMV license hearing or your license will be automatically suspended. 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 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 in Colorado 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 Colorado DUI defense lawyer can help you fight a first-time DUI. There are a number of possible defenses to Colorado 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) (“Driving under the influence is a misdemeanor, but it is a class 4 felony if the violation occurred after three or more prior convictions.”)
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(1)(b) (“A person who drives a motor vehicle or vehicle while impaired by alcohol or by one or more drugs, or by a combination of alcohol and one or more drugs, commits driving while ability impaired.”)
- C.R.S. 42-1-102(68.5) (“(a) "Persistent drunk driver" means any person who: (III) Drives a motor vehicle while the amount of alcohol in such person's blood, as shown by analysis of the person's blood or breath, was 0.15 or more grams of alcohol per one hundred milliliters of blood or 0.15 or more grams of alcohol per two hundred ten liters of breath at the time of driving or within two hours after driving.”)
- C.R.S. 42-2-126(4)(d)(II)(A) (“If a person was determined to be driving with excess BAC and the person had a BAC that was 0.15 or more or if the person's driving record otherwise indicates a designation as a persistent drunk driver as defined in section 42-1-102(68.5) , the department shall require the person to complete a level II alcohol and drug education and treatment program certified by the unit in the department of human services that administers behavioral health programs and services, including those related to mental health and substance abuse, pursuant to section 42-4-1301.3 as a condition to restoring driving privileges to the person and, upon the restoration of driving privileges, shall require the person to hold a restricted license requiring the use of an ignition interlock device pursuant to section 42-2-132.5(1)(a)(II) .”)
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(1)(a) (“A person who drives a motor vehicle or vehicle under the influence of alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of both alcohol and one or more drugs, commits driving under the influence..”)
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(1)(e) (“The fact that any person charged with a violation of this subsection (1) is or has been entitled to use one or more drugs under the laws of this state, including, but not limited to, the medical use of marijuana pursuant to section C.R.S. 18-18-406.3, shall not constitute a defense against any charge of violating this subsection (1).”)
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(6)(a)(IV) (“If at such time the driver's blood contained five nanograms or more of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol per milliliter in whole blood, as shown by analysis of the defendant's blood, such fact gives rise to a permissible inference that the defendant was under the influence of one or more drugs.”)
- C.R.S. 42-2-125(5)(b)(II) (“When a law enforcement officer serves a notice of revocation, the law enforcement officer shall take possession of any driver's license issued by this state or any other state that the person holds. When the law enforcement officer takes possession of a valid driver's license issued by this state or any other state, the law enforcement officer, acting on behalf of the department, shall issue a temporary permit that is valid for seven days after the date of issuance.”)
- C.R.S. 42-2-125(5)(b) (“If the department receives a written request for a hearing pursuant to subsection (7) of this section within that same seven-day period and the department issues a temporary permit pursuant to paragraph (d) of subsection (7) of this section, the effective date of the revocation shall be stayed until a final order is issued following the hearing; except that any delay in the hearing that is caused or requested by the person or counsel representing the person shall not result in a stay of the revocation during the period of delay.”)
- 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. (“(1) Any person who drives any motor vehicle upon the streets and highways and elsewhere throughout this state shall be deemed to have expressed such person's consent to the provisions of this section. (2) (a) (I) A person who drives a motor vehicle upon the streets and highways and elsewhere throughout this state shall be required to take and complete, and to cooperate in the taking and completing of, any test or tests of the person's breath or blood for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content of the person's blood or breath when so requested and directed by a law enforcement officer having probable cause to believe that the person was driving a motor vehicle in violation of the prohibitions against DUI, DUI per se, DWAI, or UDD. Except as otherwise provided in this section, if a person who is twenty-one years of age or older requests that the test be a blood test, then the test shall be of his or her blood; but, if the person requests that a specimen of his or her blood not be drawn, then a specimen of the person's breath shall be obtained and tested. A person who is under twenty-one years of age shall be entitled to request a blood test unless the alleged violation is UDD, in which case a specimen of the person's breath shall be obtained and tested, except as provided in subparagraph (II) of this paragraph (a).”)
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(6)(d) (“If a person refuses to take or to complete, or to cooperate with the completing of, any test or tests as provided in section 42-4-1301.1 and such person subsequently stands trial for DUI or DWAI, the refusal to take or to complete, or to cooperate with the completing of, any test or tests shall be admissible into evidence at the trial, and a person may not claim the privilege against self-incrimination with regard to admission of refusal to take or to complete, or to cooperate with the completing of, any test or tests.”)
- 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) (“For revocations for convictions for DUI or DUI per se under section 42-2-125(1)(b.5) or for excess BAC 0.08 under section 42-2-126(3)(a)(I) for a first violation that requires only a nine-month revocation, a person twenty-one years of age or older at the time of the offense may apply for an early reinstatement with an interlock-restricted license under the provisions of this section after the person's privilege to drive has been revoked for at least one month.”)
- C.R.S. 42-2-132.5(7) - Licensing sanctions for violating the interlock restrictions.
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(1)(j) (“For the purposes of this section, a person is deemed to have a prior conviction for DUI, DUI per se, or DWAI; vehicular homicide, as described in section C.R.S. 18-3-106(1)(b); or vehicular assault, as described in section C.R.S. 18-3-205 (1) (b), if the person has been convicted under the laws of this state or 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. The prosecution shall set forth such prior convictions in the indictment or information.”)