Nationwide, over 10,000 people die in DUI accidents every year. It is this high death rate, plus lobbying efforts by organizations such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), that has resulted in a steady increase in DUI penalties nationwide. Consequently, DUI charges in Colorado are no laughing matter. Here is what will happen if you are charged with a Colorado DUI.
Procedural Anatomy of a DUI Case
Let’s take a look at what happens after you get a Colorado DUI charge, from arrest to trial and sentencing.
The Traffic Stop
Normally, an officer is allowed to pull you over based on a “reasonable suspicion” that you are breaking the law. One exception to this rule is the DUI checkpoint, which is legal in Colorado as long as the police follow certain rules. The officer will probably ask you to perform “field sobriety tests” (walking a straight line, etc.) to determine if there is probable cause to arrest you.
Arrest, Testing, and Detention
If the officer believes there is probable cause to arrest you, they will place you under arrest and probably take you to the police station or the hospital for a chemical test. Once you are presented with a test, there are three possibilities.
- You can take a breath test.
- You can take a blood test (typically used if the officer suspects that you are high on drugs).
- You might decide to refuse to take either test.
If you refuse to take a test, the officer will confiscate your driver’s license, charge you with DUI, and cite you for violation of the Colorado express consent law. If you take one of the above-listed tests and the test reveals an illegal level of intoxication, the officer will confiscate your driver’s license and charge you with DUI or DWAI. The blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that warrants an automatic DUI is .08% or above, whereas the level for DWAI is between .05% and .08%.
The officer will then take you to detox (the “drunk tank”) until you sober up or until they can release you to a sober party. You might be released “on your own recognizance” (with no need to post bail), or you might need to post bail to get out of detention.
The Express Consent Hearing
If you refuse to take a test, you could lose your license for up to nine months for a first offense—even if you are acquitted of the DUI. This suspension is automatic. You can dispute it if you demand an “express consent” hearing with the Colorado DMV within seven days of your arrest. Your hearing will take place within 60 days of your request. Bringing a attorney with you could greatly increase your chances of successfully disputing the suspension of your license.
You will receive a summons for your arraignment while you are under arrest. An arraignment is an initial hearing at which the court formally informs you of your DUI charge and advises you of the possible penalties. If you plead guilty at this stage, the court will sentence you, and your case will be over. However, just because your criminal case is closed does not mean you’re off the hook. You likely have a year of probation and other consequences to contend with after the close of your case. So don’t be in too big of a hurry. It’s better to get a good lawyer to protect your interests before entering any type of plea.
You are entitled to bring an attorney with you to your arraignment, and it’s best if your attorney is with you. But even if you haven’t hired a lawyer at this early stage in the process, you must show up to court yourself if necessary. If you miss your hearing date, the court will issue a warrant for your arrest on yet another chargeーfailure to appear.
In a plea bargain, your defense attorney will use whatever leverage your case supplies to negotiate with the prosecution and get you a “good deal.” This means that you would agree to a lighter sentence in exchange for not making the State take your case to trial. Alternatively, if you have a decent defense but would still like to avoid the risk of trial, your attorney may be able to get the State to drop the top charge and agree to let you plead to a lesser charge. For DUIs, this might mean pleading out to a reckless driving charge instead of a DUI.
Plea bargaining is not always appropriate, but in many cases, it might be your best option.
If there is no plea bargain, you will proceed to the trial stage. Your attorney might seek to exclude some of the evidence against you at a pretrial suppression hearing. At trial, you can call witnesses, cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses, and present arguments. Typically, defendants opt for a jury trial, but you can request a bench trial where the judge decides whether you are guilty or not guilty. If the judge or jury finds you guilty, the judge will sentence you. If the judge or jury finds you not guilty, you have been acquitted of all charges and will not suffer any penalties.
Following is a listing of possible penalties you might face. These penalties can increase if special circumstances apply, such as causing an accident that resulted in injuries.
Suspension of Your Driver’s License
The Colorado DMV can suspend your license even if the state never convicts you of DUI.
Fines and Court Costs
You could pay up to a $1,000 fine, plus court costs, for a first offense. For subsequent offenses, the fine could be even more.
Many first offenders manage to avoid jail time if they retain an effective Colorado DUI charges lawyer to defend them. Up to a year of jail time is a real possibility, even for a first offense. Multiple offenses increasingly guarantee jail time, and the sentence gets longer with each offense.
Probation can be supervised or unsupervised. It can replace jail time or supplement it.
Substance Abuse Evaluation
You must submit to an alcohol or drug abuse evaluation, depending on the facts surrounding your case. The evaluator can compel you to attend substance abuse classes and submit to therapy.
Substance Abuse Classes
Depending on the results of your evaluation, you may have to take substance abuse classes at your own expense. In some cases, these classes can take months to complete.
You might have to attend therapy and rehab sessions at your own expense.
Your insurance rates could rise, and your insurance carrier could drop you altogether. In addition, Colorado might demand that you obtain SR-22 insurance before it reinstates your license.
A Permanent Criminal Record
A permanent criminal record will follow you for the rest of your life. It can affect your ability to get a job, sign a lease, get a loan, etc.
It’s Time to Fight Back
If you get arrested for DUI, you should retain a skilled and experienced Colorado criminal charges lawyer as soon as you possibly can. The experienced criminal charges lawyers at Gerash Steiner Blanton, P.C., know how to fight back against the Colorado criminal justice system. We have successfully represented hundreds of DUI defendants, and our lawyers have accumulated rich trial experience. For an initial consultation, call us or contact us online.