Getting pulled over for alleged impaired driving offense can feel very embarrassing. You might worry about whether anyone spotted you during the traffic stop. Quite a few people, eager to avoid further embarrassment, decide that pleading guilty will be the fastest and, therefore, best way to respond to a pending DUI charge.
However, a guilty plea means facing significant penalties. It also won’t prevent people from finding out about your arrest, as a DUI charge can never be sealed or expunged from your criminal record, even if the case is dropped or you win at trial. Although many assume that pleading guilty means lower penalties, that isn’t always true. You could end up facing the same consequences as someone who goes to trial and gets convicted.
What penalties does a DUI carry?
Being charged with an impaired driving offense can result in both criminal penalties and administrative action against your driver’s license by the DMV. In a criminal court, you may face charges for:
- DUI (driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol or a combination)
- Alesser offense of DWAI (driving while ability impaired by drugs or alcohol or a combination)
- DUI Per Se (driving with a BAC over 0.08).
At the same time, and regardless of how the criminal charges proceed, the DMV will take administrative actions against your license if you:
- Refuse to provide a blood or breath test
- Provide a test with a BAC over a 0.08%
- You are otherwise convicted of a DUI or DUI Per se charge
- Receive sufficient points from a DWAI charge and other traffic offenses to face a point suspension
DMV consequences are different and more severe for those under the age of 21 who are not allowed to consume alcohol or recreational marijuana.
While Colorado does not allow for drivers who have had their license suspended due to an impaired driving charge to have a probationary restricted license (a “Red License” that allows you to drive to school, work, medical appointments, and other such things), you will have the ability to apply for early reinstatement of your license before serving the full suspension with the installation of an alcohol-detecting ignition interlock device.
If you refuse to do a blood or breath test, regardless of how many prior offenses you have, you will be required to go two months without any driving and may reinstate early with a two-year interlock contract.
If you provide a blood or breath test, a result over 0.15% results in a “persistent drunk driver” designation and a two-year interlock requirement and a two-month period without driving before early reinstatement. If your test result is above 0.08% but below 0.15%, you will face a one-month period without driving and an eight-month interlock requirement for a 1st offense and a two-year interlock requirement for a 2nd or greater offense.
During the period where driving is prohibited, you must not drive for any reason or you could be charged with a criminal offense that carries a mandatory 30-day jail sentence. If you can reinstate early with an interlock device, you are only permitted to drive your approved vehicle that is equipped with such a device. In all situations except a 1st offense with a BAC below 0.15%, you will be required to have an interlock device regardless of whether you reinstate early or serve the full suspension, so waiting out the suspension will not avoid this requirement and will only extend the time before you have full driving privileges back.
Any criminal penalties are separate from and in addition to any administrative action taken by the DMV against your license.
An impaired driving charge can be aggravated if the offense involves other serious traffic infractions, such as reckless driving or a hit and run accident. Having children present in a vehicle with an impaired driver may result in child abuse charges as well.
Those with a history of multiple impaired driving offenses will also far more serious mandatory consequences, including the possibility of a felony DUI charge.
How does Colorado penalize different DUI charges?
A first offense DWAI carries possible penalties of:
- 2-180 days in jail
- Fine of $200-500
- 24-48 hours of community service
- Eight points with the DMV
- A possible probation sentence
A first offense DWAI is the only impaired driving offense that does not by itself trigger a license suspension unless a blood or breath test is offered and refused. The minimum jail sentence may be suspended with the completion of an approved drug or alcohol treatment and education course.
A first offense DUI or DUI Per Se carries possible penalties of
- 5-365 days in jail
- Fine of up to $1000
- Up to 96 hours of community service
- 12 points with the DMV
- A possible probation sentence
The minimum jail sentence may be suspended with the completion of an approved drug or alcohol treatment and education course, but if your BAC is above 0.200&, there is a mandatory minimum 10-day jail sentence, although this may be served through alternative sentencing programs.
A second offense has increased mandatory penalties. For starters, you face:
- 10-365 days in jail
- A mandatory minimum 2-year probation term that could last up to 5 years and that must be imposed
- A one-year jail sentence that may be imposed if probation is violated
- Fine of $600- $1500
- 48 to 120 hours of community service
- Alcohol education and treatment on probation is mandatory
These penalties are the same regardless of whether the conviction is a DWAI or DUI, or DUI Per Se. If the second offense is within 5 years of the first offense, the Court is limited in its options in using alternative sentencing, such as in-home detention, to satisfy the jail requirement.
A third offense increases the mandatory minimum jail sentence to 60 days and imposes the same requirements as a 2nd offense for probation, fines, drug and/or alcohol treatment and community service.
A fourth offense or greater may be charged as a Class 4 Felony, which can result in imprisonment at the Department of Corrections for a range of two-six years, which can be aggravated up to 12 years, with a two-year period of mandatory parole. You can also be sentenced to a half-way house community corrections facility, or to a period of felony probation determined by the judge with a mandatory 90-day county jail sentence, and a potential sentence of up to two years in the county jail as a condition for probation in a work-release program.
When considering prior offenses, any prior DWAI, DUI, or DUI Per Se at any point in the past in any US state or US territory counts, regardless of how old it is. Prior convictions for other alcohol or drug related driving offenses, including vehicular homicide and vehicular assault also count as prior offenses for the purpose of aggravated sentencing.
Although many people think about pleading guilty, defending yourself is an option, especially if you hope to minimize the consequences you face.