“If you drink, don’t drive. Don’t even putt.”
~ Dean M
After being convicted of drunk driving, many people go looking for quick tips on how to handle a DUI or DWI in Colorado. While there are important legal and personal steps to take in the wake of a DUI/DWI, dealing with the conviction itself is just the tip of the iceberg. We will be completely honest: getting a DUI or DWI is a good sign that alcohol is ruining your life. Thankfully, a DUI conviction does not seal your fate; if anything, it should be a wake up call that you need to do something about your alcohol or drug abuse – as soon as possible.
With the heat turned up on DUI enforcement across Colorado, it is important to understand both what constitutes a DUI/DWI and what the consequences for this conviction entail. In this post, we do our best to give you all of the information that you need about being convicted of a DUI (or DWI, for that matter) in the state of Colorado. While dealing with a DUI certainly has legal ramifications, and we cannot offer legal advice, a DUI/DWI is associated with many other issues, from getting an assessment to dealing with the personal and professional fallout of getting this kind of conviction.
With this in mind, we approach this topic from a holistic perspective. We address all of the questions that you may have about handling a DUI or DWI in Colorado, including the following:
- What does getting a DUI actually mean?
- What is the difference between a DUI, a DWI, and a DWAI?
- What are the indirect consequences for getting a DUI or DWI in Colorado?
- What are the legal repercussions of a DUI/DWI in Colorado?
- What is a DUI/DWI assessment and how do you get it?
- What does treatment for alcoholism or addiction look like?
- What is the best way to handle a DUI or DWI in Colorado?
What Does Getting a DUI or DWI in Colorado Mean?
First and foremost, you may be asking what the difference between a DUI and a DWI is. In simple terms, DUI is an acronym for driving under the influence, while DWI is an acronym for driving while intoxicated. In some cases, the term DWAI is used, which in turn stands for driving while ability is impaired. All three of these mean different things, both on a legal level and for the individualized enforcement of the law within the state of Colorado.
“In Colorado, over 30,000 drivers are arrested every year for intoxication behind the wheel. However, not every driving arrest is the same. Depending on the degree of intoxication, the driver can be charged with driving under the influence or driving while ability impaired. In Colorado, DUI is the most serious drunken driving charge. DWAI is defined as driving a vehicle after you have consumed drugs and/or alcohol which affect your mental or physical abilities to the slightest degree. Oftentimes, police officers or the district attorney charge someone with DWAI when they are unable to prove the more severe charge of DUI. If an officer believes you are under the influence of alcohol, cannabis, narcotics, over-the-counter medications or even prescription drugs, and that your abilities are impaired, you can and will be charged with DWAI.”
In other words, there is no instance in which anyone in Colorado should be driving while impaired by any type of substance – alcohol or otherwise. Based on this legal insight, the differences between a DUI, a DWI, and a DWAI can be broken down as follows:
- DUI: Driving Under the Influence. This is the technical term for what is usually known as drunk driving. Getting a DUI requires a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08%, and is usually associated with more serious fines and penalties.
- DWI: Driving While Impaired. This is a more general term for driving while impaired with any type of substance – drugs, alcohol, or any other form of substance. This is sometimes used interchangeably with a DUI.
- DWAI: Driving While Ability is Impaired. This is generally considered to be a lesser infraction, and requires a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of only 0.05%. Because of this lower level, the penalty for a DWAI is less strenuous than that of a DUI.
Regardless of the term applied for driving drunk or impaired, the consequences for doing so are serious. In a phrase, getting a DUI or DWI in Colorado means a drastic change in the way you live your life, in both direct and indirect consequences.
“Both charges mean the arresting officer has reason to believe the driver is too impaired to continue to drive. In some jurisdictions, drivers can be charged with impaired driving (or driving under the influence) even if they do not meet the blood alcohol concentration levels for legal intoxication. No matter what the offense is called – DUI or DWI – if you are arrested for drunk driving, driving under the influence, or driving while intoxicated you will be facing serious consequences.”
The indirect consequences for a DUI or DWI have to do with the impact on your personal life, your relationships, and your physical and mental health. Of course, these are not the only consequences. The direct consequences include legal action, as outlined below. Both charges should be taken extremely seriously.
More specifically, getting a DUI or DWI in Colorado can result in a range of different legal consequences, from the revocation of your driver’s license and a heavy fine, to up to a year in jail, to required participation in alcohol education or alcohol rehab. The specifics of these consequences in Colorado are discussed below.
Legal Repercussions of a DUI/DWI in Colorado
The legal consequences of a DUI or DWI in Colorado are quite clear. According to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, the government “has the legal authority to suspend your license for DUI and DWAI regardless of any criminal charges you may face through the courts. These penalties, known as Administrative Penalties, can cause an automatic suspension of your driver’s license as well as fees and points depending on the offense.” In other words, getting a DUI/DWI in the state of Colorado can often result in a revoked license, no questions asked and with no “ands, ifs, or buts” about it. More specifically, the department website lists the legal repercussions of the first offense for all three areas:
- DWAI First Offense: 8 points toward license suspension; $200 to $500 fine; up to 180 days in jail; up to 48 hours community service
- DUI First Offense: Administrative license revocation for 9 months; $600 to $1,000 fine; up to 1 year in jail; up to 96 hours community service; alcohol education
- DUI/DWAI First Offense (Under 21): Drivers license suspended 3 months and 4 points added to driving record
Clearly, getting a DUI/DWAI should not be taken lightly, given its legal consequences. Besides the legal and financial consequences, even the first instance of a DUI can be associated with a loss of freedom (through the revocation of a driver’s license), damaging property, losing your job, breaking relationships, getting serious injury, and even causing the loss of life. In terms of financial cost, the Colorado Department of Transportation has informed drivers that a first offense DUI costs the average driver at least $10,000:
“The total comes to over $10,000 and includes lawyer fees, rising insurance rates, fees to get a license back, probation supervision fees, all the way down to the brain injury surcharge and court costs. The figure is based on the minimum fine. It is easy to see that drinking and driving is not worth any cost.”
The legal repercussions of getting a DUI or DWI in Colorado can therefore be split into three areas: administrative penalties, criminal penalties, and financial penalties.
Administrative penalties include things like a lost license, criminal penalties include fines and community service, and financial penalties stem from both of these areas. Of course, being convicted of a DUI/DWI in the state is also directly associated with a range of personal, professional and social ramifications, ranging from lost job opportunities to lowered physical health. This is because getting a DUI is often associated with having a larger problem with alcohol or other substances – this is why getting a DUI assessment, attending alcohol education, and considering alcohol rehab or addiction treatment is so important.
Getting a DUI/DWI Assessment and Alcohol Education
In many cases, being convicted of a DUI, a DWI or a DWAI results in mandatory alcohol education courses. In order to determine which courses or treatment options that you will be required to attend, the court often use alcohol evaluations. In simple terms, an assessment is exactly what it sounds like: it gives addiction counselors, an alcohol therapist or an alcohol treatment center to evaluate how serious of a problem with drinking or with substance abuse that an individual has.
This allows the court to better define which courses are necessary (i.e. a course highlighting the dangers of drunk driving or, in contrast, a full alcohol rehab and addiction treatment program). The idea is to receive this assessment from an external, neutral source so that the focus is on getting the individual the help that they need to either recover, or at the very least to avoid a DUI or DWI in the future.
According to the Colorado official state website, alcohol education and evaluation are often the legal response in addition to the administrative and criminal measures already outlined above:
“The court may require you to complete a series of alcohol classes as a condition of a plea bargain or a deferred sentence for an alcohol-related offense. There are also circumstances in which the court may not order you to take alcohol classes, but Colorado law will require these classes as a condition of driver license reinstatement. You must have an evaluation done by an alcohol treatment center or alcohol therapist in the state where you reside. You cannot reinstate with the State of Colorado until you provide documentation that you have met the requirements of the center or therapist.”
This insight from the Colorado government makes it clear that alcohol assessment and alcohol classes are often a requisite part of getting a DUI/DWI in the state. However, it is also important to note here that this is meant to be more of a rehabilitative than a punitive measure for individuals convicted of a DUI or DWI. The idea is to not only communicate how dangers driving under the influence can be, but also to address the underlying drinking or substance abuse problems that lead to the DUI in the first place. This is where treatment comes in.
Getting Treatment after a DUI/DWI in Colorado
Being convicted of a DUI or a DWI in Colorado is one of the major signs that you need the help that addiction treatment or alcohol rehab can offer you. Getting an alcohol assessment in the wake of a DUI is just the start. Instead of stopping short with the alcohol education or classes ordered by the court as a result of the conviction, it is important to consider additional alcohol rehab or drug addiction treatment after you have faced the wake up call of a DUI or DWI – no matter where it happened.
Full detox, rehab and recovery programs are not always necessary for everyone who gets a DUI or DWI. However, if other signs of alcoholism or addiction are present it may be time to consider entering a rehab or treatment program. This treatment can take a variety of forms.
For instance, inpatient alcohol rehab centers require individuals to stay within the facility for a period of at least two weeks. During these programs, participants engage in group support meetings, one-on-one counseling, and have a safe space to detox from the effects of drugs or alcohol.
In contrast, intensive outpatient programs for both alcohol and drug addiction allow participants to continue living at home while providing many of the same tools, workshops, meetings and support as an inpatient facility.
Which kind of program you attend is entirely dependent on your personal situation – how long you have struggled with alcohol or substance abuse, how severely you experience withdrawal, and what kind of home environment you have to go back to. Whichever kind of program you choose, it is important to know that getting a DUI or DWI is one of the major signs that you need to get help – in one form or another.
The major takeaway from this post should be that dealing with a DUI/DWI is not limited to going through the legal motions. Truly handling a DUI/DWI instead means realizing that this is a symptom of problem drinking or drug abuse, and that it is time to get help. If you are still not sure where you stand, one place to start would be to take our alcoholism addiction quiz, which can help you determine if your drinking habits have turned into a substance abuse disorder. This may be a scary thought, but coming to the realization that your drinking has become a problem is the first step toward getting the help you need to recover.
We are ultimately here to help you through the assessment, treatment, and personal recovery that you need to overcome addiction, dependency or alcoholism. If you still have questions about getting help with a DUI/DWI in Colorado, feel free to either leave a comment in the section below or contact us directly.