Colorado DUI Process
The Stages of a Driving Under the Influence Case
In Colorado, the DUI process begins with an arrest. An officer must have a justifiable reason to pull you over and to take you into custody. After your arrest, two separate processes are initiated – one involving the court and the other involving the DMV. The criminal and administrative processes are concerned with different matters, but the outcome of each can profoundly affect your life.
We will explore the various stages of a DUI case in more detail below. Note, however, that these are complex matters, and all the nuances cannot be covered in a single page. Nothing here should substitute for advice from an experienced attorney.
The DUI Stop and Arrest
An officer must have a justifiable reason to pull you over on suspicion of driving under the influence. This means that they have something concrete to point to warranting their actions. For instance, the officer may have observed you engaging in poor driving behavior or violating a traffic law.
Before an officer can arrest you for DUI, they must have probable cause to do so. Again, this requires that they have evidence that you committed a drunk driving offense.
To establish cause, the officer may do several things, such as:
- Observe your behavior: If your speech is slurred or your eyes are red and watery, that might suggest to the officer that you are operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
- Administer a roadside breath test: If the officer reasonably suspects that you were driving under the influence, they may ask you to blow into a handheld device to determine your alcohol concentration level. Note that you can refuse this preliminary screening without facing administrative driver's license suspension. The breath test results are not admissible in court and only allow the officer to establish probable cause.
- Subject you to field sobriety tests: The officer may ask you to participate in a battery of assessments designed to test your mental and physical abilities. The three most common field sobriety tests (FSTs) include the horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk-and-turn, and one-leg stand. As with the roadside breath test, the officer administers FSTs to establish probable cause to arrest you. You can politely decline to participate in them without consequence to your driver's license.
Although you might refuse the breath test or FSTs, the officer may rely on other evidence to justify taking you into custody.
The DUI Chemical Tests
After you have been arrested on suspicion of DUI, the officer may request that you submit to a blood, breath, urine, or saliva test to measure your alcohol or drug content. Although we use "request" here, technically, being subject to at least one of the tests is not an option. Under Colorado's expressed consent law, any person operating a vehicle on public streets or highways has given implicit consent to participate in a chemical test.
That said, you can refuse to provide a specimen. However, doing so is not without consequence. Refusal can result in a driver's license suspension.
You can also face a driver's license suspension if you participate in and fail a chemical test.
Failure of a chemical test is as follows:
- For drivers 21 years of age or older: BAC of 0.08 or higher
- For drivers under 21 years of age: BAC of 0.02 or higher
The DMV Hearing
If you are subject to an administrative suspension because of a chemical test refusal or failure, you can request a hearing to contest the action. The DMV hearing is separate from the criminal court process in that it is concerned not with whether you are guilty of driving under the influence but with whether you were lawfully arrested and either refused or failed a chemical test.
You have only 7 days to request the hearing. If you do not notify the DMV that you are challenging the administrative suspension of your driver's license within that time, you will be subject to a hard suspension.
The administrative revocation periods are as follows:
Excess BAC 0.08:
- First violation: Nine-month suspension
- Second violation: 1-year suspension
- Third or subsequent violation: 2-year suspension
Excess BAC underage:
- First violation: 3-month suspension
- Second violation: 6-month suspension
- Third or subsequent violation: 1-year suspension
- First violation: 1-year suspension
- Second violation: 2-year suspension
- Third or subsequent violation: 3-year suspension
The Court Process
Regardless of what happens during the administrative process concerning your DUI, your case must still go through a criminal court process.
The court process is concerned with whether you are guilty or innocent of driving under the influence.
The first hearing you will attend is an arraignment. This proceeding is where the judge will inform you of your charges and ask you to enter a plea. If you plead guilty, you will be scheduled for sentencing.
If you plead innocent, your case will continue to the next stage, which involves fighting your charge. Depending on your situation, you and your defense lawyer may be able to settle your case out of court. However, if you are unable to secure a favorable plea deal, your case will be taken to trial.
Trial is where your attorney will refute the State's evidence and seek an optimal result on your behalf. If you are found innocent, your case ends. However, if you are found guilty, you will be sentenced.
Upon a conviction, the court can impose various penalties, including, but not limited to, incarceration, fines, and/or driver's license suspension.
Driving under the influence cases are complex, which is why it is necessary to have a lawyer with a sound understanding of the law represent you. At Jim Medley Defense Lawyer, our Denver attorney has extensive experience in the criminal justice field and substantial training in DUI defense and toxicology.