What is a DUI?

Colorado has a tiered DUI/DWAI penalty system that is stricter than many other states in the US. Penalties for a first offense begin at a relatively high level and then increase from there. Because of the higher stakes and penalties, it is important to have an experienced DUI/DWAI attorney on your side as soon as the state accuses you of a DUI.

  • What are the potential DUI penalties?
  • What is the best strategy for defending a DUI case?
  • What does mitigation look like?
  • What if I would rather take my case to trial?
  • What is the bottom line in a DUI case?

What are the potential DUI penalties?

The DUI penalties in Colorado are generally stricter than those in other states but also depend greatly upon the circumstances of the case. However, the most significant variation in penalties is dependent on how many previous alcohol related driving offenses a person has. Most DUI cases are charged as a misdemeanor, but with three or more alcohol related offenses, a DUI is a felony.

Otherwise, the potential penalties can vary from zero days to two years of mandatory jail and can be accompanied by community service, fines, and driver’s license revocation. More detail is available in the table below.

ChargeMandatory Jail SentenceMaximum Jail SentenceCommunity ServiceMinimum License RevocationFine Range
1st DWAINone180 days24 to 48 hoursNoneMaximum $500
1st DUINone1 year48 to 96 hours9 months$600 to $1,000
1st DUI with BAC above 0.2010 days1 year48 to 96 hours9 months$600 to $1,000
2nd DWAI/DUI within 5 years of 1st offense10 days1 year48 to 120 hours1 year$600 to $1,500
2nd DWAI/DUI outside of 5 years of 1st offense10 days1 year48 to 120 hours1 year/None$600 to $1,500
3rd DWAI/DUI60 days1 year48 to 120 hours2 yearsMaximum $1,500
4th DWAI/DUI – Class IV Felony*2 years6 years$2,000 to $500,000

*Class IV felonies are accompanied by a mandatory 3-year parole period.

What is the best strategy for defending a DUI case?

Since the best strategy often hinges on the specific fact patterns of the case, it is always better to consult with a Denver criminal defense attorney. However, most often the best way to defend DUI cases is called mitigation.

This strategy, while not an attempt to excuse a person’s actions, is meant to explain to the prosecutor why a more favorable plea resolution should be offered in the case. Mitigation helps to bring to light the circumstances surrounding the offense, explain that a person is more than their actions, and demonstrate that they have grown from the event.

What does mitigation look like?

Mitigation consists of multiple steps taken by both a person and their attorney. The defendant in the case must takes steps to demonstrate a commitment to their community and a dedication against re-offense. Often these steps include substance abuse treatment, therapy, community service hours, Level 2 Alcohol Education and Therapy classes, and a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Impact Panel. It is up to your Colorado criminal defense attorney to design a mitigation plan personalized to your case, your background, and your needs.

At the same time a person is completing their half of the mitigation, an attorney should be compiling that mitigation into a comprehensive and compelling pitch to the DA, either for dismissal or a more favorable plea resolution. The attorney should be working with their client to design an offer that they would be alright accepting, if any. At the same time, an attorney should ensure that any offer made by a prosecutor would not impact their client’s immigration status.

All of this work should go towards achieving the best possible plea resolution if the case does not go to trial.

What if I would rather take my case to trial?

Mitigation is the best option for resolution if the prosecution can absolutely prove their case, and usually in DUI cases, they can. However, there are a few reasons they may not be able to. If a person refuses a BAC test, it becomes more difficult to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that a person did commit a DUI.

Additionally, as part of mitigation, an attorney should request that any blood samples be retested. Sometimes, if the police have lost these samples, the road to acquittal is much easier. Other times, the retest may result in a lower BAC. However, blood retests very seldom make an impact.

One of the most common reasons to take the case to trial is if the prosecution cannot prove who exactly drove the car. For example, if a person got into an accident, ran from the scene, and arrived at home, and in doing so caused doubt about the actual driver of the car, then making the prosecution convince jurors of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt may be the best course of action.

What is the bottom line in a DUI case?

At the end of the day, most DUI cases are not going to destroy your life, especially if no one was hurt. Instead, they provide an opportunity for people to reevaluate their choices and truly turn their life around. A good Colorado criminal defense attorney will both fight for you before the court, and help get you the support that you need to make a permanent change in your life.

Alcohol & DrivingDUI Penalties