What’s the Difference between a Colorado DUI and a DWAI?

Drinking and driving are illegal throughout the United States. If you’re caught committing this crime, you could face serious consequences like jail time, community service, expensive fines and fees, suspension of your driver’s license, and numerous other penalties that could affect all aspects of your life.

That’s why it’s important to understand our state’s laws when it comes to drinking and driving.

Some states, like Texas, have DWI offenses – driving while intoxicated. Here in Colorado, however, we have two drinking and driving offenses: driving while ability impaired (DWAI) and driving under the influence (DUI).

Let’s first understand what each offense is individually and then look at how the two offenses differ from each other.

What Is a Colorado DUI?

DUI is the most serious Colorado drinking and driving crime. For all adults over 21, you can be charged with a DUI if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 or higher. If you’re under 21, the legal BAC limit is 0.02.

If a law enforcement officer pulls you over and suspects that you are under the influence of alcohol, that officer can ask you to take a blood, breath, saliva, or urine test. When you choose to operate a motor vehicle in our state, you automatically give your consent to take one of these tests. Refusing to take the test is not only admissible in court but it can also be reason enough to revoke your license for 12 months regardless of whether you can prove you weren’t actually intoxicated.

What Is a Colorado DUI

As a first time DUI offender, you could face a misdemeanor offense with consequences including:

  • 9-month license suspension
  • 5 days to one year in jail
  • Fines between $600 and $1,000 (not to mention other DUI costs)
  • 48 to 96 hours of community service

If you commit a second DUI, those consequences increase to:

  • 12-month license suspension;
  • 10 days to one year in jail;
  • Fines between $600 and $1,500
  • 48 to 120 hours of community service

The jail time for a third DUI increases to 60 days or up to one year in jail. A fourth DUI is a class 4 felony offense, which is punishable by 2 to 6 years in prison. Also, third and any subsequent DUI offenses will result in a 24-month license suspension.

What Is a Colorado DWAI?

What happens if you’ve been drinking and driving, but your BAC is under the legal limit of 0.08?

In many states, if your BAC is not at least 0.08, you won’t be charged with a DUI. In Colorado, however, we have the DWAI offense, which is a separate charge for drivers whose BAC is between 0.05 and 0.08.

Sometimes, law enforcement officers or district attorneys will charge a suspect with DWAI if they can’t prove DUI.

While a DWAI charge is not as severe as a DUI, it should still be taken seriously because if you are convicted you will stay have to deal with the consequences.

The penalties for a first-time DWAI offender include:

  • 2 to 180 days in jail
  • Fines between $200 to $500 and other DWAI costs
  • 24 to 48 hours of community service

After your first DWAI, though, the penalties for any subsequent DWAI or DUI follow the penalties described above for a second, third, and fourth DUI.

DUI vs. DWAI: What’s the Difference?

Comparing these two offenses, it’s clear that a DWAI isn’t as serious as a DUI. However, both offenses carry a number of penalties, and both offenses will appear on your criminal record.

If you’re convicted of a DUI, your license will be revoked for at least 9 months. With a DWAI, your license won’t be revoked. However, you will receive 8 points on your license. If you accumulate 12 or more points in a 12-month period, or 18 or more points in a 24-month period, your license could be suspended.

For any DUI conviction, you will receive 12 points on your license.

Although DUI and DWAI are two distinct charges, they are fairly similar when you look at the punishments for both offenses. The only main difference between the two is whether your BAC is 0.08 or lower.

DUI vs. DWAI - What’s the Difference

Regardless of whether you’re facing charges for DUI or DWAI, you should reach out to an experienced Colorado DUI attorney if you want the best chance of getting your charges reduced, dropped, or dismissed. The consequences you’ll face with a conviction can affect everything in your life. Don’t let that happen. Fight back today and let a skilled attorney help you beat your charges.


About the Author:

Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.