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Colorado Criminal Defense Blog

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Imagine you’re at happy hour after work and you have a single drink. Or you’re at a friend’s dinner party and you decide to drink a glass of wine. When it starts to get late and you need to be heading home, what do you do?


Many people in these situations make the decision to drive themselves home. Most likely they’re not “feeling it” at all, and the idea that they might be impaired barely crosses their mind. After all, it’s just a single drink. Even if they are pulled over, the chances of a single drink causing them to have a BAC level of .08 or higher are very low.


If you’ve had thoughts like this, you’re not wrong. But you also may not be thinking clearly about everything.


First off, as much as you think you’re okay to drive, judging your own level of impairment is difficult, because we can’t really know how high or low our blood alcohol content (BAC) is.


But it goes beyond this. While a single drink isn’t likely to earn you DUI, in our state there is still the chance that you can be charged with a DWAI.


What’s the difference?


Driving While Ability Impaired


Most people know what a DUI – or driving under the influence – is, but in Colorado, we have a lesser charge: driving while ability impaired (DWAI). If you are pulled over for drunk driving and your BAC is between .05 and .08, you could be charged with a DWAI. Many states have only a single legal limit – .08 – but our laws also include penalties for having a slightly lower BAC.


What it amounts to is that if your BAC is under .08 but at least .05, you could be facing up to 180 days in jail, up to $500 in fines, and 24 to 48 hours of community service as a first-time offender. If it’s your second offense, you could be facing up to one year in jail and $1,500 in fines. Additionally, with a second offense, your license could also be suspended for a year and you have to have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed on your car.


While a DWAI is considered a lesser offense, it is still a misdemeanor charge. Charges can show up on your record, they count against you for subsequent offenses, and you can get points on your license.


Denver DUI Attorney


Driving Under the Influence


So you can be charged with a DWAI if your blood alcohol content is between .05 and .08. If your BAC is .08 or above, however, you may be charged with a DUI. For a first offense, you can face harsher penalties than for a DWAI:


  • Up to one year in jail
  • Up to $1,000 in fines
  • License suspension for 9 months


The penalties increase for a second and third offense. A second offense includes a minimum of 10 days in jail, whereas a third offense – and any subsequent offenses – has a minimum of 60 days in jail.


Colorado law has also gotten rid of the requirement that an offender has to wear an ankle bracelet. So the only way to complete your sentence is to serve the required time or apply for a work release program.


Regardless of your BAC, if you’ve been charged with a DWAI or DUI, you should reach out to an experienced Colorado DUI attorney to fight your charges. We all make mistakes, but so do police officers and breathalyzers. Don’t let a mistake ruin your life.



About the Author:


Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state.  She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.


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