The DUI court process in Colorado begins with an arrest. The first appearance before a judge is usually the arraignment. The court process may continue with pre-trial conferences, motions, and discussing a plea deal. If a deal cannot be reached, the case may go to trial. Following trial, the judge or jury will find the defendant guilty or not guilty. If they are found guilty, the judge will make a sentencing determination.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:
- 1. What Happens After a Colorado DUI Arrest?
- 2. What is a DMV Hearing?
- 3. What Will Happen at My DUI Arraignment?
- 4. Should I Accept a Plea Deal?
- 5. Will I Have a DUI Jury Trial?
After a Colorado DUI arrest, the police officer may take you to the hospital, police station, or sheriff's station for a chemical test. They may seek a breath, blood, or urine sample to test for the presence of alcohol or drugs in your system. If you refuse to submit a breath or blood test, you may face additional penalties simply for refusing the test, including losing your license for up to a year. Even without a chemical test to show your BAC, the police will likely still arrest you and the prosecutor may still prosecute the case against you.
A Colorado drunk driving arrest can lead to various criminal charges depending on the age of the driver, the driver's criminal history, and whether they were involved in an accident. The most common DUI arrest involves a violation of Colorado Revised Statute § 42-4-1301(2)(a), where the driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was tested at 0.08% or higher. This is also known as a per se DUI. Alternatively, if the driver had a BAC of less than 0.08% but were impaired to the slightest degree, they may be arrested for Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI). 1
Other DUI charges include an underage DUI for drivers under the age of 21 with any alcohol in their system 2, a commercial DUI for commercial drivers with a BAC of 0.04% or higher 3, a DUI for being under the influence of drugs4, and DUI charges if the driver was involved in an injury accident 5.
If you had a BAC over the legal limit, the police or sheriff's officer will usually take your license and give you an Express Consent Affidavit and Notice of Revocation. This may act as your temporary license. If you do not request a hearing with the Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within 7 days, then your license will be automatically suspended. Talk to your Colorado DUI defense attorney as soon as possible so you can request a DMV hearing in time to keep your driving privileges.
The police will also provide a notice to appear in court, including a time, date, and location. This next court date will generally be the arraignment and is the next step in the DUI court process. Before your arraignment, you should contact an experienced Colorado DUI lawyer so they will have time to challenge your license suspension and prepare for your upcoming court date.
If you submitted a chemical breath sample after a DUI arrest and your BAC was over the legal limit, the police will usually issue you an Express Consent Affidavit and Notice of Revocation at the time of your arrest. If you submitted a blood or urine test, you may get a Notice of Revocation in the mail. You may also get the notice after refusing to submit to a blood, breath, or urine test. This serves as a temporary license and notice of an upcoming revocation of your driving privileges.
The notice also states that you have seven (7) days to make a written request for a hearing with the DMV. If you do not make a request for a hearing within 7 days, your driving privileges will be revoked on the 8th day following the Date of Notice. If you request a hearing, you may be issued a temporary driving permit to extend your driving privileges until you have the DMV hearing.
A DMV hearing is like a simplified version of the court trial; however, it is an administrative procedure while the court case is a criminal matter. You can have your attorney represent you before the DMV hearing as well as through the criminal court process. The hearing may give your attorney the chance to look for weaknesses in the case against you and increase your chances for success in the criminal trial.
The administrative DMV hearing gives you a chance to challenge whether the officer had a valid reason to stop the vehicle, whether there was probable cause to arrest you, and whether you had a BAC over the legal limit. This is not a chance for you to argue that you need your car for your job, or you need to be able to drive to take your kids to school.
If you are successful in the DMV hearing, you will get to keep your license. However, if you are later convicted of a DUI, your license will later be suspended. If you lose the DMV hearing, you will lose your license. The suspension period generally depends on your criminal history, number of DUIs, and whether you refused a chemical test. Most first-time DUI license suspensions last for 90 days, however, you may have to meet certain requirements before you can have your license reinstated.
The arraignment is where the court process begins. A judge may advise you, the "defendant", of the criminal charges and possible penalties. The prosecutor, who acts as the attorney working on behalf of the State of Colorado, presents an offer with a proposed sentence. You will have the chance to plead guilty, not guilty, or “no contest.” By pleading guilty, the judge will impose a sentence, and that will be the end of the court process.
If you plead not guilty, the case will generally proceed to the pre-trial phase. At this point, your attorney will get a chance to review all the evidence and documents involved in your case, including a copy of the chemical test results and the police report. This can help them evaluate your case and help you determine whether or not you may want to take a plea deal or take your case to court.
Note that defendants who fail to appear at their arraignment...or have private counsel appear for them...will have a bench warrant issued for their arrest.
In some cases, a plea deal may be preferable to taking your chances in court. Your attorney can negotiate the best deal for you so that you'll get a predictable outcome. Juries can be unpredictable, even when you think you have a solid case. A plea deal can also save you time and money by avoiding a lengthy and expensive jury trial.
There are a lot of factors that go into whether a plea deal might make sense in your case. At the initial phase of the court process, your attorney may have limited information about your case. After they have been able to evaluate the evidence, conduct an investigation, and file motions, they may have a much better idea of the chances of success.
Through filing motions, your attorney can challenge the evidence the prosecution plans to use against you. This includes motions challenging probable cause and motions to suppress evidence. Ultimately, it is up to you whether you take the offer or not.
Most cases never make it to trial. Instead, they are settled through plea negotiations. However, if the prosecutor does not offer an acceptable plea deal, or you want to challenge your case through the legal process, your case may go to trial.
Most DUI cases are misdemeanors. As a defendant charged with a misdemeanor DUI, you may have the right to a jury trial.6 Trials can be held before a jury or judge. A trial before a judge is known as a bench trial. There may be cases where you may prefer to have your case heard by a judge instead of a jury. Talk to your Colorado DUI attorney about what kind of trial might be best for you.
At trial, the judge or jury will decide whether to find you guilty or not guilty. If you are found guilty, the case will proceed to the sentencing phase. If you are found not guilty, your case may finally be over, unless the prosecutor decides to appeal the case.
Call us for help...
If you were arrested for drinking and driving, underage DUI, or driving under the influence of drugs, 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 DUI and other criminal offenses. 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.
(See our related article about Colorado DUI checkpoints/ sobriety checkpoints.)
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(2)(a)
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301 (2)(d)(I)
- C.R.S. 42-2-126(2)(c)
- C.R.S. 42-4-1301(2)(a)
- C.R.S. 42-4-1402
- C.R.S. 18-1-406