Criminal Traffic Offenses & DUI Charges

Hopkins Law handles all DUI and traffic offenses. Traffic offenses often amount to nothing more than a speeding ticket. They are generally not something you should get too stressed over. However, a string of recent traffic tickets or a major traffic offense may place your driver’s license in danger of revocation under the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) point system.

A rise in your insurance costs may also result from a minor traffic ticket. Traffic offenses are classified as criminal charges. With criminal traffic offenses you have all the basic rights that you would have in a more serious criminal case. If you are concerned about your license or simply feel that your ticket is unfair, you should consult a DUI defense attorney.

Alcohol and drug related traffic offenses carry much heavier penalties than a typical traffic ticket. The controlling laws are much more complex and there can be unexpected consequences depending on your profession or the circumstances of your case. Alcohol and drug related criminal traffic offenses are further complicated by the Express Consent Law. This law requires the DMV to revoke a driver’s license automatically following certain actions by the driver.

Even if you are not found guilty the DMV may still be required to revoke your license – depending on what occurred during your traffic stop. You can and should request an administrative hearing with the DMV to contest your license revocation. Having a DUI defense attorney present can greatly improve your chances of a positive outcome. It will ensure that the hearing is handled in the way that is most beneficial to your case.

Many people assume that because they had high blood alcohol content (BAC) during their DUI arrest, there is no point in hiring an attorney. They feel that they should accept the district attorney’s plea offer and get things over with as soon as possible. This desire to quickly conclude such a painful episode is understandable. But failing to contest your case and letting the district attorney steam roll you is a huge mistake. A high BAC does not guarantee a conviction. There are numerous ways to challenge the validity of a traffic stop, a breath or blood test, and roadside sobriety tests. Any challenge may result in a dismissal of your DUI charge or a successful trial.

It is extremely important to consult an attorney immediately following an arrest for an alcohol or drug related criminal traffic offense.

What Is A DUI?

Except when discussing specific offenses, we will refer to alcohol and drug related traffic offenses generally as “DUI” cases. Common DUI offenses include the following:

  • Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI) – BAC of .08 or higher
  • Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID)
  • Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI) – BAC of .05-.079
  • Underage Drinking and Driving (UDD or Baby DUI)
  • Driving Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol with a Commercial Driver’s License
  • Driving Under Revocation (DUR)
  • 2nd or 3rd Offense

The Traffic Stop

Every DUI case is unique, but they all share a common pattern. A DUI case begins with contact between you and the police – usually because you have made some kind of driving error. During the police officer’s investigation of your traffic offense, he or she discovers evidence of intoxication. Voluntary roadside sobriety tests or a breathalyzer is administered and you are arrested. Following your arrest your blood or breath is tested again. During this process the police will be asking you questions and recording your answers.

Please refer to the step-by-step description on the criminal process page. You’ll find a general discussion of how to protect your rights when charged with a misdemeanor. DUIs are a traffic misdemeanor. Understanding your basic constitutional rights is necessary, but there is also specific information about DUI laws that you should consider.

Most DUIs start out as a normal ‘traffic stop’. Therefore, you can limit your chances of a DUI by limiting your chances of a traffic stop. Keep your car in good repair – replace burned out signal and brake lights, for instance. Scrupulously follow the traffic laws – make complete stops, do not run yellow lights, do not speed, and do wear your seat belt. Stay focused on your driving – do not text or talk on the phone while you drive.

You do not have to be driving a car to get a DUI. This may seem counter-intuitive, but just being in a car without a designated driver when you are intoxicated, even if you are not actually driving the car, places you in danger of a DUI. Simply falling asleep in your car when you are intoxicated may result in DUI charges. One Colorado driver fell asleep in the front seat of their parked car, lying on their side, with their keys in the ignition. They were still prosecuted for a DUI.

You can also be found guilty of a DUI when riding a bicycle or other road vehicles.

Roadside Sobriety Testing and Roadside Breathalyzers

YOU SHOULD NEVER AGREE OR VOLUNTEER TO TAKE A ROADSIDE SOBRIETY TEST OR A ROADSIDE BREATHALYZER. THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES FOR REFUSING ROADSIDE TESTING. The Express Consent Law requires the DMV to revoke your license for refusing to take a blood or breath test, but this does not apply to roadside testing. The Express Consent Law only applies to refusal of a blood test or a breathalyzer conducted at a medical facility or police station after you have been arrested.

Roadside sobriety tests (placing one finger on your nose, standing on one leg etc.) are hard for a sober person to pass during the daytime, much less at night after you have had a drink or two with cars and headlights whizzing by. Further, the determination about whether you pass the test is totally up to the officer who administers the test. The officer can easily confuse nervousness or discomfort with intoxication. Sometimes the officer simply makes a mistake in administering or scoring the test.

Despite their lack of reliability, sobriety tests often give the police what they need to arrest you. Doing a roadside sobriety test is never in your favor. The only way for the police to justify giving you the roadside tests is for you to give your voluntary consent. You should never volunteer to do a roadside sobriety test. So, if the police ask for your permission to administer a roadside test, do not give it to them. Just politely say “no thank you.”

A roadside breathalyzer – often referred to as a “preliminary breath test” (PBT) – is also never in your favor. The police will produce a small device, about the size of a cigarette pack, and ask you to blow into it. The roadside breathalyzer device is very unreliable. Often the PBT will convince the police that they need to arrest you. It can lead to unnecessary DUI arrests. If asked to do a roadside breathalyzer, just say “no thank you”. Again, the police cannot force you to take a roadside breathalyzer. Further, unlike the roadside sobriety tests, refusal of a roadside breath test cannot even be used against you at trial.

You might be noticing a trend here. You should never voluntarily agree to do any kind of roadside testing. The police cannot force you to do so. Taking a roadside test can only hurt you. The only reason the police are asking for it, is so they can build a case and arrest you. You should choose your words carefully when you refuse a roadside test. If the officer is going to arrest you, make it clear to the officer that you are willing to take a blood or breath test at the hospital or police station. NEVER AGREE TO DO A ROADSIDE SOBRIETY TEST OR A ROADSIDE BREATHLYZER. And remember: getting a DUI charge reduced is a lot easier if you contact a lawyer early on.

The Express Consent Law and Probable Cause

Normally in criminal cases, you do not have to give a blood, breath or urine sample unless your circumstances meet special conditions. The Express Consent Law creates an exception to this general rule. The Express Consent Law says that anyone who drives a vehicle in Colorado “consents” to cooperate when an officer, who has “probable cause” to believe that you are violating the DUI statute, requests that you complete blood, breath or urine testing. If you refuse a test when the express consent law applies, you will lose your license for a year or more.

“Probable cause” means that the police must have a logical reason to believe that you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. For your purposes, it is important to know whether or not the police are placing you under arrest. If you are under arrest, you must consent to the testing of your breath, blood or urine at a police station or medical facility. But remember, you do not have to submit to any roadside testing.

If the officer has restrained you, you are probably under arrest. But you should always ask the officer if you are under arrest when questioned about your willingness to take a test. It should go like this:

Officer: “I would like you to take a test so we can determine if you are intoxicated. Is that ok with you?”

You: “Am I under arrest, officer?”

Officer: “Yes, you are under arrest. Would you be willing to take a breath test right now? I just need you to blow into this little device right here?”

You: “I am willing to take a blood or breath test, but not right here and not on that device. I would rather take a blood or breath test at the police station.”

Officer: “OK. Do you want to do a blood test or a breath test?”

Once you choose which type of test you want to take, the officer will transport you either to the police station for a breath test or to a medical facility for a blood test.

Chemical Testing – Breath and Blood

You do have the right to choose between a blood or breath test. You do not have to take a test if the one you choose cannot be administered for some reason. However, once you have chosen a test, you should stick with it. If the police think you are trying to delay by changing your mind, you can still be charged with refusing the test by the DMV and suffer a license revocation.

There is no clear answer on whether one test is better than the other because circumstances vary widely from case to case. Some attorneys might tell you that you should always request a blood test because they usually take longer to administer … and some DUI lawyers might tell you should always request a breath test because they are generally less reliable in court than a blood test. Regardless of which test you choose, there are numerous ways to challenge each kind of test in court. Both breath and blood tests are susceptible to human and mechanical error. Incorrect test results can lead to unfair DUI charges. Choosing one test or the other will not make or break your case, but immediately consulting an attorney will make a world of difference.

Indeed, the sooner you contact a lawyer, the easier time they will have getting your DUI charge reduced.

Constitutional Rights Somewhat Limited

Your right to counsel in DUI cases is limited. If you qualify for the public defender, Colorado law requires you to attend a pretrial conference with the district attorney before counsel will be appointed. If the district attorney offers you a plea agreement that does not require jail time and you accept the offer, then you are not eligible for the public defender. You should never accept a plea agreement without first consulting a DUI defense attorney.

You do have a right to jury trial. But you must make a written request and pay a fee or your trial will be heard by a judge.

Bond Conditions

All DUI charges are bail eligible. Conditions of bond may include that you refrain from drinking and submit to monitoring via blood or breath tests. You may not be allowed to drive. You may not be allowed to leave the state. You may be required to participate in pretrial services programs that assist in monitoring you while you await trial. This may include electronic monitoring, home visits, or pretrial work release. Your bond conditions will continue until the final disposition in your case. If you violate the conditions of your bond it may be revoked. A revocation means jail time, or increased bond and this will only complicate your situation.

Penalties

One reason to take DUI’s seriously is because the penalties and consequences are numerous and extremely disruptive to your lifestyle. There are three phases of DUI penalties:

  • (1) criminal penalties – jail time; fines; community service; and alcohol/drug classes and treatment
  • (2) Division of Motor Vehicles penalties – revocation of your driver’s license; high cost insurance; and use of the ignition interlock device on a restricted license
  • (3) collateral consequences – negative impacts on employment, restrictions on travel to other countries, and loss of student scholarships or suspension/expulsion from college.

Sentencing and Criminal Penalties

If you have no prior alcohol related offenses, sentencing will usually occur immediately following your entry of a plea or your conviction. If you have prior DUI’s or pending DUI’s, the court will order a presentence investigation report and set a sentencing hearing to occur in the near future.

For most judges, the single most important sentencing factor is whether you have prior alcohol or drug related traffic offenses. Judges are also concerned with whether a car accident occurred, your prior driving record, and whether you have been revoked from probation in prior cases.

The court relies on statutory sentencing requirements for jail time, fines and useful public service (UPS) hours. Colorado law requires increasingly harsher penalties for second, third, and subsequent DUI convictions. A prior DUI conviction for purposes of sentencing is defined as any conviction for DUI, DUI per se, DWAI, habitual user, vehicular homicide while intoxicated, vehicular assault while intoxicated, aggravated driving with a revoked license, or driving while license was under restraint. Sentencing requirements for some of the most common DUI charges follow:

Charge

Jail Time

Fine

UPS

DUI, DUI per se, and
Habitual User

5-365 days
5 days mandatory

$600-$1,000

48-96 hours

DWAI

2-180 days
2 days mandatory

$200-$500

24-48 hours

DUI, BAC >0.20

10-365 days
10 days mandatory

$600-$1,000

48-96 hours

UDD (Baby DUI)

None

$15-$100

0-24 hours

2nd Offense*

10-365 days
10 days mandatory

$600-$1,000

48-120 hours

3rd Offense*

60-365 days
60 days mandatory

$600-$1,500

48-120 hours

* Importantly, 2 years of probation with level II alcohol/drug treatment and with a one year jail sentence, suspended conditionally upon successful completion of probation, is also mandatory if you have prior DUI convictions. ‘Suspended sentence’ means that if you violate your probation the judge can order you to serve one year in jail.

Alternative jail time – work release, weekend time, and home detention – is available at the discretion of the court depending on the circumstances of your case. The penalties the court gives are not the end of the story. There are also penalties enforced by the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) which can include revocation of your driver’s license. These penalties are discussed in the DMV Regulation section.

Court Costs and Fines

Court costs and statutory fees, which include a number of smaller set fees and some fees that the court determines at sentencing, will usually total between $400 and $700. The total cost depends on the UPS fee which is up to $120. The Persistent Drunk Driver Cash Fund surcharge, decided by the judge, ranges from $100 to $500. It is impossible to predict your court costs exactly until the judge determines the value for each discretionary fee. In addition to your court costs, there is a possible fine of at least $600, but not more than $1,500 for DWAI’s and DUI’s depending on priors.

Probation

Probation may last up to four years depending on your case. Conditions of probation always require that you not commit other offenses, pay restitution, complete an alcohol or drug evaluation and related treatment, and comply with all court orders relating to your probation. Conditions may also include random urine and breath tests and participation in a victim impact panel. The court may order that you install an ignition interlock device in your car. The court may find necessary other requirements like donations to a charity or a driver improvement program. Probation often occurs in addition to a jail sentence.

As part of probation, alcohol evaluations and treatment are required in all DUI cases. Based on the results of your evaluation, you will be required to complete an alcohol education and treatment program.

These programs are divided into two levels – Level 1 and Level 2. Level 1 is often recommended for first time offenders. It requires the completion of 12 hours of classes that deal with alcohol related issues. It is geared toward helping you make better decisions in the future. Level 2 is always required when you have a prior DUI, but depending on your BAC level, may be required for first time offenders. Level 2 requires you to complete 24 hours of classes with the added component of interactive group processes. Further, Level 2 requires completion of therapy. Depending on your BAC level and whether you have prior DUI’s, your therapy requirements will fall into four tracks, Tracks A-D. The therapy tracks are increasingly intensive with Track A requiring 42 hours of therapy over 21 weeks and Track D, the most intensive, requiring 86 hours of therapy over 43 weeks.

Probation Costs

Probation costs $50 per month in addition to other costs and fines. Alcohol and drug treatment and therapy are also an additional cost of probation. The evaluation is part of the court costs, but depending on which level and which track your evaluation recommends, your costs for the treatment will range from $120-$860.

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Our Northern Colorado family law firm offers free initial consultations to new clients. Please call us today at 970-624-6060.