A DUI in Colorado is more than a mere inconvenience, even if it is your first offense. Although DUI is normally a misdemeanor, under certain circumstances, Colorado can charge you with a felony. If this happens, start looking for a skilled criminal charges defense lawyer immediately, even if you are still in jail.
Under Colorado law, there are three ways to charge you with a felony in response to a DUI in Colorado: fourth offense DUI, causing serious bodily injury and causing a fatal accident.
Fourth Offense DUI
A fourth offense DUI is a felony in Colorado.
The Lookback Period
Some states apply a specific number of years that are referred to as the “lookback period.” That means that when counting your past DUIs to determine your penalty, they will only look back a predetermined number of years into your past. Colorado has no lookback period, meaning that they can look back 50 years for a previous DUI and count it against you.
It is no defense that one or more of the charges in your past was not a DUI but a DUID (Driving Under the Influence of Drugs) or a DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired). Either charge counts against you the same. In other words, if your driving history includes two DUIs and one DUID, a subsequent DUI will count as a fourth offense and, therefore, a felony.
Penalties for Fourth Offense Felony DUI
A fourth offense DUI is a class four felony in Colorado. Penalties include:
- Two to six years in prison; and
- A fine of $2,000 to $5,000.
If the judge sentences you to probation, the terms must include at least 90 days in jail, at least 48 hours of community service, and alcohol or drug education classes.
Causing Serious Bodily Injury
You can face felony DUI charges, even for your first offense, if your intoxication causes an accident that results in “serious bodily injuries” to someone. This offense is known as vehicular assault. “Serious bodily injuries” might include injuries such as:
- Permanent disfigurement;
- Long-term loss of a bodily function (the ability to walk, for example, or a need for dialysis);
- Broken bones; or
- Second-degree and third-degree burns.
In many cases, however, whether or not a bodily injury is “serious” depends on the skill of the criminal charges defense attorney.
Penalties For a “Serious Bodily Injury” Felony DUI
A “serious bodily injury” DUI is a class four felony in Colorado. Penalties include:
- Two to six years in prison with three years of parole after release; and
- A fine of $2,000 to $500,000 fine.
The victim might also file a personal injury lawsuit against you.
Causing a Fatal Accident
If your intoxication causes an accident that kills somebody in Colorado, you have committed a class three felony known as vehicular homicide. Penalties include:
- Four to 12 years in prison plus five years of parole after release; and/or
- A fine of $5,000 to $750,000.
The victim’s close relatives might also file a wrongful death lawsuit against you.
There are many possible DUI defenses to choose from, depending on the circumstances of your case. Some of the most commonly used defenses include:
- The officer committed breathalyzer testing errors;
- The breathalyzer machine malfunctioned;
- The officer had no legitimate reason to pull you over;
- The officer singled you out based on racial profiling at a DUI checkpoint;
- The officer arrested and tested you without probable cause;
- Your BAC did not rise above the legal threshold for intoxication until after you were pulled over—this might happen if you drank a lot immediately before you were pulled over;
- Diabetes or another medical condition caused an exaggerated BAC reading;
- You were not driving the car—but remember that the police can charge you with DUI even while you are parked if the key is anywhere in your car, even in your pocket.
- The injuries sustained by the victim of the accident you caused were not serious—but if this defense is successful, it will only reduce your DUI from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Regardless of the merits of your case, the persuasiveness and experience of your lawyer can play a significant role in how your case turns out.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is DWAI?
DWAI means “Driving While Ability Impaired.” It differs from DUI in that the minimum Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is only .05% (vs. 08% for a DUI per se). As mentioned above, DWAI counts the same as DUI and DUID when counting your previous offenses to determine your penalty.
Can I get out of a DUI by refusing to take a breathalyzer test?
Not likely. Additionally, refusing to take a breathalyzer test carries its own penalties. You can suffer the suspension of your driver’s license plus two more years with an ignition interlock device installed on your car for refusing the test. Furthermore, the prosecutor can argue that you refused the test because you knew you were intoxicated. In this way, you might end up with two convictions instead of only one.
Will an out-of-state DUI conviction count against me?
If your previous offense happened in another state, that is no defense to a repeat DUI charge. You may be tempted to think that Colorado won’t even know about your out-of-state charges. But if your previous offenses occurred in the United States, they probably will.
The Driver License Compact (DLC) is an agreement among the states to share information about the driving histories of motorists. Although Michigan, Tennessee, and Wisconsin are not members, that doesn’t mean Colorado can’t discover your history from one of these states too.
Retain a Colorado Criminal Charges Defense Attorney quickly if you are facing felony DUI charges, you need to get moving. The Colorado criminal charges defense lawyers at Gerash Steiner Blanton, P.C., know how to handle DUI defense in the state of Colorado. Our attorneys will apply the benefit of decades of trial litigation experience to get you an acquittal, a dismissal, or the most favorable possible plea bargain. Contact us online to schedule a free consultation.