What Is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWAI in Colorado?

What is DWAI?

In Colorado, DWAI is short for “Driving While Ability Impaired.” DWAI is a lesser-known and generally less severe charge than a DUI. However, a DWAI is still a criminal charge with potentially serious penalties. This is not to be confused with a DWI, which stands for “Driving While Intoxicated” and is simply another name for a DUI. Colorado DUI laws are notoriously strict. This is due in part to the DWAI—a uniquely Coloradan charge. If you have been charged with a DWAI, seek the aggressive representation of an experienced Denver DUI attorney.


If you are facing a DWAI charge in CO, discuss your case in a FREE consultation.


Colorado Blood Alcohol Legal Limit

While the nationwide legal limit is 0.8%, if you are pulled over in Colorado and your breath test shows a blood alcohol level between .05 and .08%, you can be charged with a DWAI. Many Colorado residents and visitors may not be aware that they can be considered impaired by police officers and charged with a DWAI because they are under the legal limit.

According to Colorado law, it doesn’t take much to be considered impaired. The arresting officer must believe that the amount of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both “…affects the person to the slightest degree so that the person is less able than the person ordinarily would have been, either mentally or physically, or both mentally and physically, to exercise clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a vehicle.”

Is DWAI a Misdemeanor or Felony Charge in Colorado?

In Colorado, a DWAI is considered a misdemeanor charge, meaning it is technically less serious than a DUI charge. A DWAI charge will still be added to a criminal record if convicted. Even worse, after the first offense, the punishments for DWI and DWAI become the same.

For example, if you have a DWAI conviction on your record and you are subsequently arrested for a DUI, the state will punish you as if you had two DUIs. The same is true if you have a DWAI on your record and are charged with a second DWAI.

DWAI Penalties in Denver

While a first time DWAI is not as serious as a DUI, it is still a misdemeanor, with potentially life-damaging consequences. Unlike a DUI charge, those convicted of DWAI face the following penalties:

  • Face 8 points on their license towards suspension
  • Fine up to $500
  • Up to 180 days in jail
  • May receive up to 48 hours of community service

Subsequent DWAI Penalties

The charges can increase significantly with subsequent convictions—regardless of whether the previous conviction was a DWAI or a DUI. Furthermore, Colorado has no lookback period, meaning that all previous DUIs and DWAIs are relevant to your sentencing. Colorado will also account for these penalties even if they are from another state in the US.

For a second DWAI, the punishment is the same as a second DUI:

  • Up to 1 year in jail
  • Face fines of up to $1,500
  • 1 year of license suspension

After serving a portion of their suspension, those convicted of a DWAI may be eligible for an ignition interlock device.

Get Representation from our Colorado DWAI Lawyer

If you have been arrested for a DUI-related offense in Colorado, it is incredibly important that you get in touch with an experienced Denver DUI attorney as soon as possible. The sooner you begin building your defense strategy, the more likely you are to have a positive outcome. Whether you are facing a DWAI or DUI charge, having the right legal representation on your side can drastically improve your future by keeping your criminal record clear.


Discuss your options in a free case consultation with our Denver DUI attorney.


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