Quality Criminal Defense When It Counts

Colorado Drunk Driving Penalties

When someone is arrested for drunk or impaired driving in Colorado, one of their first concerns is how a DUI will affect their lives. Will they go to jail, lose their license, or have to pay large fines?

Unfortunately for the driver facing DUI charges, all three – and more – may be in store. When it comes to DUI penalties, Colorado is one of the strictest states in the country.

Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Limits In Colorado

Colorado has a 0.08% per se limit, which means that a driver whose blood alcohol content is 0.08% or above can be charged with driving under the influence, even if they do not show any sign of impairment.

If a driver’s BAC is 0.17% or higher, they can be charged with aggravated DUI, which comes with increased penalties.

Drivers who are under 21 are subject to a zero-tolerance law in Colorado. If an underage driver’s BAC is 0.02% to 0.05%, they can be charged with Underage Drinking and Driving (UDD).

First-Time DUI Penalties

A first-time drunk driving offense is a misdemeanor. The criminal penalties depend on whether the charge is for DUI or DWAI. Generally, DWAI charges carry less severe penalties. Hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer can make a big difference.

For a first-time DUI offense, the penalties are:

  • Jail: 5 days to 1 year
  • Fines: $600 to $1,000
  • License suspension: 9 months
  • Public service: 48 to 96 hours
  • Ignition interlock device: 8 months

For a first-time DWAI offense, the penalties are:

  • Jail: 2 to 180 days
  • Fines: $200 to $500
  • Public service: 24 to 48 hours

Second-Time DUI Penalties

If you have a prior conviction for drunk or impaired driving and are charged with a second offense, it doesn’t matter if your second offense is a DUI or DWAI. The penalties are the same. For a second-time DUI or DWAI offense, the penalties are:

  • Jail: 10 days to 1 year
  • Fines: $600 to $1,500
  • License Suspension: 1 year (if the second conviction is 5 years or less after the first)
  • Public Service: 48 to 120 hours
  • Ignition Interlock Device: 2 to 5 years

Third-Time DUI Penalties

For a third-time DUI or DWAI offense, the penalties are:

  • Jail: 60 days to 1 year
  • Fines: $600 to $1,500
  • License Suspension: indefinite, but you can apply for reinstatement after 2 years
  • Public Service: 48 to 120 hours
  • Ignition Interlock Device: 2 to 5 years


Drivers with an extremely high BAC may be charged with aggravated DUI. This carries increased penalties and a substantial likelihood of incarceration if convicted.

Felony DUI

Fourth-time or subsequent DUI or DWAI offenses are considered a Class 4 Felony under Colorado law. Under Colorado law, a Class 4 Felony carries a minimum sentence of 2 years and can range up to 6 years.

Alcohol Education Classes

All drivers who are convicted of a DUI, DWAI, or DUI per se must undergo an alcohol or drug assessment and complete education and treatment programs. The driver is responsible for all costs associated with the programs.

Ignition Interlock Device

An ignition interlock device is essentially a breathalyzer that is wired into your car. The driver must blow into the device in order to start the car.

The issue with interlock devices is that they are very costly. A driver who is required to use such a device will be expected to assume the cost of installing the device as well as a monthly fee for as long as it is in use.

Alcohol Vs. Marijuana DUI

It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. Colorado’s legal limit for delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (also known as THC, the active ingredient in marijuana) is 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood.

Marijuana DUIs carry the same penalties as an equivalent alcohol DUI.

Refusing A Chemical Test (Express Consent Law)

Colorado’s Express Consent Law requires all drivers to submit to a drug or alcohol test if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that they are driving under the influence. If you refuse testing, your license will automatically be suspended.

  • First refusal: 1-year suspension
  • Second refusal: 2-year suspension
  • Third refusal: 3-year suspension

Getting Your License Reinstated Early

Some drivers may qualify to get their suspended license reinstated early. To do so, they will have to pay a fee and may have to go into the Ignition Interlock program.

DUIs In Other States

Colorado residents who incur a DUI in another state will generally have to face the same penalties that they would if the DUI happened in Colorado. You (or your lawyer) may be required to travel back to that other state for each court proceeding in your DUI case.

You can expect that the other state will report the DUI back to Colorado, where it will be considered if you commit any offenses later on.

DUI “Lookback Period”

A “lookback period” is the amount of time that a drunk driving offense will stay on your record and taken into consideration for subsequent offenses. For example, if there were a 10-year lookback period, only DUIs within the past 10 years would “count” when determining whether a DUI was a first or second offense.

Colorado does not have a lookback period. This means that the state considers all impaired driving offenses within your lifetime to determine criminal sentencing.

Experienced And Professional DUI Defense At McCabe Law

Have you been charged with a DUI or DWAI in Colorado? At McCabe Law, we want to help you avoid the unpleasant and costly penalties that come along with a DUI conviction. Boulder DUI attorney Janene McCabe is a leader among Colorado defense attorneys and is known throughout the state for her determination, skill and dedication to her clients.

Colorado DUI penalties can change your life forever. Having experienced and proven legal representation on your side puts you in the best possible position to challenge DUI charges and protect your legal rights. We understand you’re in a difficult spot and treat you with the compassion and respect you deserve.

McCabe Law is conveniently located in Boulder and serves clients in counties throughout Colorado. Let us put our experience to work for you. To set up a free, no-obligation case evaluation, please contact our offices today or call 720-996-2422.