DUI vs. DWAI: What’s the Difference?

April 6, 2023

DUI is short for “driving under the influence” of alcohol or drugs. “Driving under the influence” means driving a motor vehicle when a person has consumed alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of one or more drugs, “that affects the person to a degree that the person is substantially incapable, either mentally or physically, or both mentally and physically, to exercise clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a vehicle.”

Police do not need a blood or breath test to arrest you for DUI. All the Officer needs to believe is that you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the point you are “substantially incapable” of driving safely. Therefore, any person with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher is per se DUI in Colorado.

What is a DWAI in Colorado?

DWAI is short for “driving while ability impaired” from alcohol or drugs. While the nationwide legal limit is 0.08%, if you are pulled over in Colorado, and your breath/blood test shows a blood alcohol level between .05 and .08%, you can be charged with a DWAI. Many Colorado residents and visitors may not be aware that they can be considered impaired by police officers and charged with a DWAI because they are under the .08% limit.

Colorado law makes the bar low for Officers to arrest someone for a DWAI. An Officer need only find that the amount of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both “…affects the person to the slightest degree so that the person is less able than the person ordinarily would have been, either mentally or physically, or both mentally and physically, to exercise clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a vehicle.”

What are the Penalties for DWAI and DUIs in Colorado?

While first-time offenses of DUI and DWAI are both misdemeanors in Colorado, a DUI carries harsher penalties than DWAI.If you’re convicted three or more times, it will upgrade to a class 4 felony. If convicted of a DUI or DWAI, the charge will remain on your driving record for life.

For a first-time conviction of DUI, you face up to a year in jail. You may also be subject to the following:

  • Driver’s license revoked for one year
  • Community service hours
  • Monitored sobriety
  • $600 - $1000 fine
  • Substance abuse education and therapy

A second-time offender faces the following penalties:

  • Driver’s license revoked
  • Community service hours
  • Ten days of mandatory jail time with a maximum of one year
  • Mandatory probation for two years
  • $1500 fine
  • Level II substance abuse education and therapy

Since a DWAI is a less severe charge than a DUI, it carries less severe penalties. First-time offenses for DWAIs may put you in jail for up to 180 days. It also carries a $500 fine. However, second and third-time offenses are more severe than first-time DUI penalties. Penalties increase up to a year in jail, $1500 in fines, license revocation, and two years of probation. The court may also require you to complete community service, monitored sobriety, and substance abuse classes.

If you receive three or more of these convictions, it upgrades to a felony. This carries a fine of anywhere from $2,000-$500,000, 2-6 years in prison, and three years of parole.

Discuss Your Defense with Jorgensen, Brownell & Pepin, P.C.

If you find yourself in the middle of a DUI or DWAI case, your best chance in court is to hire an experienced professional. You can count on Jorgensen, Brownell & Pepin, P.C. for reliable representation. We believe everyone deserves a fair chance against a prosecution. Contact us today to get started.

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