Impaired Driving, Drugged Driving, and Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
In Colorado, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. According to section 42- 4-1301 a person who is found to be operating a vehicle with a certain amount of drugs and/or alcohol in his system may be charged with a misdemeanor. There are two types of charges the person may receive: a DUI (driving under the influence) or a DWAI (driving while ability impaired).
A DWAI carries a lesser penalty than a DUI. To be charged with a DWAI, the driver must have consumed drugs and/or alcohol prior to operating the vehicle. The intoxicants must affect the driver in a manner that makes the person even slightly less capable of driving a vehicle than a person who has not consumed any substances. The impact may be mental or physical. For example, a person may be charged with a DWAI if he is less able to use clear judgment or if his physical capabilities in handling the vehicle are impaired in any way. The state must prove that the driver operated the vehicle while impaired by drugs and/or alcohol to bring about a conviction. This may be proven if the driver’s blood alcohol content is between 0.05 and 0.08. If the driver can show that his blood alcohol content was lower than 0.05, then he may not be convicted of a DWAI or a DUI.
If the driver is convicted of driving while ability impaired for the first time, he faces two to 180 days imprisonment in county jail, between a $200 to $500 fine, between 24 and 48 hours of community service, and up to two years of probation.
A DUI is the more serious offense of the two charges. A person may be charged with a DUI if he consumes drugs and/or alcohol before operating a vehicle. The intoxicants must substantially affect the driver’s mental or physical abilities to operate the vehicle. To be convicted of the offense, the state must prove that the driver operated the vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This may be shown if the driver’s blood alcohol content is higher than 0.08 percent at the time of driving or within two hours after driving a vehicle.
During a DUI proceeding, the driver should raise any direct and circumstantial evidence that shows the intoxication tests performed at the time of the offense were inaccurate or flawed. For example, a nonexpert witness may testify that not all the common symptoms of intoxication were present.
The driver may have an affirmative defense if he can prove he consumed alcohol after driving rather than before driving, resulting in the high blood alcohol content two hours after driving. If the driver can provide credible evidence, then the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver consumed the alcohol before or during the drive.
If the driver is convicted of driving under the influence for the first time, he faces at least five days imprisonment in county jail (and no more than one year), a fine between $600 and $1,000, 48 to 96 hours of community service, and up to two years of probation.
If the driver has a prior DUI, DWAI, vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, or aggravated driving with a revoked license and is convicted of a second DUI or DWAI, then he faces up to one year in county jail (with ten days being the minimum), a fine between $600 and $1,000, between 48 and 120 hours of community service, and at least two years of probation and court-ordered programs.
A person may be convicted of both a DUI and a DWAI. In which case, the sentences will run concurrently.
It is important to note that a person who is using the drug (such as medical marijuana) under the laws of the state does not have a defense to the charge. The driver is still responsible for operating the vehicle in a manner that abides by Colorado law. Therefore, medical marijuana patients should be cautious about offering their medical marijuana registration card to an officer during a traffic stop.