A Colorado DUI vs. DWAI: What’s the Difference?

Drunk or drugged driving in Colorado is a serious offense, but it’s not always as black and white as people assume. Depending on the circumstances, driving while ability impaired (DWAI) or driving under the influence (DUI) or can be charged – and each has different penalties as well as defenses.

Here’s what you need to know about DUIs and DWAIs, their differences, and what you can do if you or a loved one are facing these types of charges.

DUI and DWAI: The Differences

When you’re caught driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then you can be charged with a DUI. Drivers that are caught driving while ability impaired from drugs or alcohol can be charged with a DWAI. Those may sound very similar, but there is one key difference: blood alcohol level.

In Colorado, when a driver is found to have a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or higher, then they’re charged with a DUI regardless of whether or not they were driving safely.  Because your BAC is over .08, a jury can infer that you are “per se” substantially incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle.

When your blood alcohol level is found to be less than .08 percent (though usually over .05 percent) but you were still impaired in operating the vehicle safely, then a DWAI can be charged.  A DWAI means that someone is impaired to even the slightest degree, and less capable of operating a motor vehicle than a person ordinarily would be able to.

Being charged with either offense means that the driver of the vehicle was exhibiting dangerous behavior while operating it. They are both serious offenses with serious penalties.

The Penalties for DWAI and DUI

In Colorado, first-time offenders charged with a DUI or DWAI face misdemeanor penalties. A DUI is a more serious offense and carries harsher penalties, even for a first time offender.

First-Time Offenders

First-time DUI offenders are subject to several common penalties on these charges, to include:

  • Up to one year in jail
  • Up to 96 hours of community service
  • Fines up to $1,000
  • An administrative suspension through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for up to 9 months
  • 12 points on your driver’s license that will reported to the DMV
  • A mandatory jail sentence if your BAC is over .20

For first-time DWAI offenders, the penalties vary slightly:

  • Up to 180 days in jail
  • Up to 48 hours of community service
  • Fines up to $500
  • 8 points on your driver’s license that will reported to the DMV

Repeat Offenders

Even with the lesser penalties associated with a DWAI, any subsequent DWAIs or DUIs carry the same penalties. However, repeat offenders are always handled more harshly — it doesn’t make a difference if the prior conviction was from another state or even several years ago.

For second or third DUIs or DWAIs, the penalties include:

  • Fines up to $1,500
  • Up to 120 hours of community service
  • Up to one year in jail
  • Mandatory jail sentences for each additional offense

If found guilty of a fourth DWAI or DUI, a class 4 felony is charged. This carries with it penalties such as:

  • Up to six years in the Colorado Department of Corrections; or
  • A sentence to Community Corrections; or
  • Probation with a least 90 days in jail; along with
  • Fines up to $500,000

Defending Against DWAI or DUI Charges

Colorado Springs DWI Lawyer

Although every case is different and contains its own set of unique circumstances, defending against a DWAI or DUI in Colorado is usually includes the following strategies:

  • Showing the defendant’s blood-alcohol level did not meet the charge threshold
  • Claiming that the defendant was not driving impaired

For either offense, it’s also common to defend against the charges by claiming that there was no probable cause to be pulled over in the first place, that the defendant was not arrested lawfully, or that the defendant suffers from a condition that would cause them to fail a field sobriety test.

Understand the steps you must take to protect yourself if you’re ever charged with a DUI or DWAI in Colorado. They’re both serious and can have an impact on people’s lives for years to come.

About the Author:

Andrew Bryant is a well-respected Colorado Springs criminal attorney who has been practicing in the area for years. A Colorado native, he returned to the home he loves after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Now, he uses the knowledge he gained as an El Paso County District Attorney to fight tirelessly for his clients’ rights. He is AV-Preeminent rated, has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, and has been named to Best of the Springs lists by The Gazette for years.