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What Does the Prosecution Have to Prove for a DUI Conviction?

Watkins Law Firm LLC Dec. 29, 2023

Gavel, alcohol and car keys on a wooden deskThe conviction rate for DUIs in Colorado has significantly increased, especially after the launch of a program by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 2019 to offer free alcohol and drug testing to all state law enforcement agencies. The conviction rate rose to 88 percent, and for Delta-9 THC and polydrug DUI cases, it's as high as 92 percent. This is a clear indication that the prosecution takes DUI cases seriously and has been successful in obtaining convictions.  

But this doesn't reveal how many charges were reduced or dropped prior to trial, or how many of those convicted hired an attorney to challenge the arrest and evidence presented. 

The Elements of a DUI Offense: What the Prosecution Needs to Prove

First and foremost, the prosecution needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were operating a motor vehicle. This isn't just limited to cars – it could include bicycles, boats, or even Segways.  

In Colorado, you don't actually have to be physically driving a vehicle to be charged with a DUI or DWAI. So, if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe you're impaired by alcohol or drugs and you're found in the driver's seat with the keys in the ignition, they can consider this as being in control of the vehicle. This could potentially lead to a DUI or DWAI charge, even if you're not actively driving or even if the vehicle is stationary. 

They also need to demonstrate that you were impaired by alcohol or drugs while operating the vehicle. This impairment can be proven through various means, such as breathalyzer, blood test, urine test, or saliva test. If your blood contains a certain level of Delta-9 THC, the substance found in marijuana, they can infer that you were under the influence of drugs. 

It's not just about driving under the influence though. Even if you believe you can avoid a DUI by pulling over and sleeping it off, a police officer can claim probable cause if you're found in the driver's seat with the keys in the ignition. To minimize the risk of this claim, I'd advise you to place the keys in the trunk and sleep in the back seat. 

Probable Cause and Testing

Colorado law requires individuals suspected of driving impaired to submit to a breath, blood, urine, or saliva test if a law enforcement officer has probable cause. If you refuse to take the test, it could result in the revocation of your driver's license, and your refusal could be used as evidence against you in court. However, it's important to note that probable cause doesn't necessarily mean the officer has proof of your impairment. It just means they have a reasonable belief that you were driving under the influence. 

Penalties for DUI Convictions

If you're convicted of a DUI, you could face both administrative and criminal penalties: 

  • For a first-time DUI offense, you may face jail time (5 days to 1 year), fines ($600 to $1,000), public service (48 to 96 hours), and a license revocation of 9 months. 

  • Penalties for a first-time DWAI include jail time (2 to 180 days), fines ($200 to $500), and public service (24 to 48 hours). There is no license revocation for a first-time DWAI. 

  • Subsequent DUI or DWAI convictions carry increased penalties, including longer jail sentences, higher fines, and longer license suspensions. 

Common DUI Defense Strategies

As an experienced attorney, I've seen various defenses successfully used in DUI cases: 

  • Challenging the legality of the DUI checkpoint or traffic stop. This refers to questioning the legality of the initial stop or checkpoint and whether it was conducted within legal boundaries. 

  • Questioning the accuracy of field sobriety tests. If you were asked to perform a field sobriety test and failed, it's important to question the accuracy and reliability of these tests. 

  • Challenging the validity of breathalyzer or blood test results. Breathalyzers and blood tests are not infallible, and there have been cases where errors or improper handling of samples have led to inaccurate results. 

  • Arguing that there was no probable cause for testing. If the officer did not have a valid reason to suspect you were driving under the influence, it could be argued that they did not have probable cause to require testing. 

  • Arguing that the officer didn't follow proper procedures during the arrest. Law enforcement officers must follow certain procedures during a DUI arrest, and if they fail to do so, it could be used as a defense. 

  • Disputing whether the defendant was actually driving or in control of the vehicle. In some cases, it can be argued that the defendant was not actually driving or in control of the vehicle at the time of arrest. 

  • Contending that any impairment was due to a medical condition rather than alcohol or drug use. It's not uncommon for individuals to have a medical condition that can mimic the symptoms of intoxication. 

Remember, facing a DUI or DWAI charge is serious and can have far-reaching consequences. It's not recommended to handle this without an experienced defense attorney.  

The Importance of Legal Representation 

Facing a DUI charge is a serious matter that shouldn't be taken lightly. It's crucial to seek the assistance of an experienced DUI lawyer who can aggressively protect your rights and guide you through the justice system. A skilled attorney can challenge the arrest and the evidence presented, potentially leading to reduced or dropped charges. They can also guide you through DMV hearings and help you defend against license suspension. 

In conclusion, understanding the elements that the prosecution has to prove for a DUI conviction and the potential penalties is crucial if you're facing a DUI charge. Seeking the assistance of a qualified DUI defense attorney can greatly increase your chances of achieving a favorable outcome. Remember, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Consult with an attorney for personalized guidance based on your specific situation. 

My law firm, Watkins Law Firm LLC, is based in Boulder, Colorado. I work with clients throughout Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette, Broomfield, and the rest of the state. Reach out to me today to discuss your case and start building a strong defense.