In Colorado, it is illegal to drive if you meet the legal definition of being “under the influence” of drugs. Unlike alcohol-related driving offenses, impaired driving charges based on drugs do not involve a legal limit. As a result, any amount of drugs in your system can result in DUID charges.
Peakstone Law Group, LLC provides excellent and experienced representation for driving under the influence cases involving drugs or medications (commonly called DUID by the courts and criminal attorneys). Serving Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Teller County, Pueblo, Castle Rock, Fremont County, Canon City, and the surrounding areas. Our DUI attorneys have handled many complex cases involving DWIs.
If you or someone you know is being charged with driving under the influence of drugs; fill out our online form for a free consultation today!
What is a DUI in General?
In Colorado, the driving under the influence statute reads as follows:
“. . . driving a motor vehicle or vehicle when a person has consumed alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of alcohol and one or more drugs, that affects the person to a degree that the person is substantially incapable, 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.” C.R.S. 42-4-1301(1)(f) (2017).”
In addition, one can be guilty of the lesser charge of driving while ability impaired (DWAI or DWI) if they are impaired even to the slightest degree. C.R.S. 42-4-1301(1)(g)(2017). To better explain this, essentially it means that, if someone usually has the driving ability of 100. And after a drug or medication they are now at a driving level of 99, they are technically guilty of at least DWAI.
How Does DUI Work When the Allegation is Drugs and Not Alcohol?
People often forget that DUIs involve more than alcohol and a blood alcohol content (bac). As the statute makes clear, someone can be impaired by either alcohol, drugs, or both. This leaves us with the question of; what is a drug?
Broadly, drugs in DUI cases fall into three categories:
Each category has its own challenges and requires specialized knowledge of the drugs involved and often a unique approach to the case.
Is There a Mandatory Jail Time for a DUI in Colorado Springs?
Most DUIs in Colorado are misdemeanors. However, a fourth DUI can be charged as a felony. For misdemeanor DUIs in Colorado, the mandatory jail times (if any) can range depending if you have a previous DUI. Minimum jail time can range from 10 – 60 days.
DUID—Prescription Medications / Drugs
If you are being prescribed a medication that affects your availability to drive you may be charged with driving under the influence of drugs. This comes as a surprise to many who are legally prescribed prescriptions by their doctors. After all, if it’s prescribed by your doctor, how can you get in trouble for it?
The fact is that the DUI and driving while ability impaired (DWAI) statutes provide no exception nor consideration for prescription medications. If the mediations make you tired, fuzzy, or a little slower, or any one of dozens of other side effects that can in any way affect someone’s performance while driving, that person could be DUI.
In prescription medication cases, the challenge is often establishing that the amount of a medication found in a client’s blood is not in fact at an impairing level for that client and that the standard field sobriety tests are not validated for prescription medications and are of limited use in helping to determine whether someone was or was not impaired.
Marijuana DUIs have a different common challenge. Marijuana, with restrictions, is legal in Colorado (although not under Federal Law). Many people in Colorado now use marijuana regularly either for medical or recreational purposes. Because of that, they often carry high levels of THC in their system, often more than the 5 nanograms per milliliter that are the Colorado level for a presumption of intoxication. C.R.S. 42-4-1301(6)(a)(IV) (2017). However, the more one uses marijuana, the higher the level of THC that can be tolerated without having impairing effects. In other words, marijuana affects everyone differently, and a level that might clearly impair one person may not impair another person at all. Unfortunately, law enforcement and the District Attorney’s office will always assume that active THC in one’s system means they were impaired—without considering usage history or how the drug affects that particular individual.
Illegal drug DUIs often have more social stigma attached to them than other types of DUIs. Because illegal drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine, to name a couple, are by their nature, completely illegal, the District Attorney’s Office tends to frown on them more than either alcohol DUIs, marijuana DUIDs, or prescription medication DUIDs. Therefore, even if the individual is only mildly impaired, plea offers from the deputy district attorneys assigned to the case may be harsher than in other comparable types of cases. In addition, illegal drug DUIDs often come coupled with felony drug possession charges, complicating the entire case.
Investigation of Driving Under the Influence of Drug Cases
In some ways, the investigation of DUID cases is identical to that of alcohol cases. The police still must have a valid reason to contact you. They must still have probable cause to arrest you or demand a chemical test. However, several aspects of the investigation of a typical DUID case are different.
First, what the police are looking for is different. For example, instead of expecting you to have an odor of alcohol on your breath, they (for some drugs) expect discoloration on your tongue, involuntary muscle spasms and twitching, a decreased (or increased) internal body clock, vertical gaze nystagmus (which is rarely caused by alcohol but can be by some types of drugs).
While the Standard Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) are well documented and validated for alcohol DUI investigations, they are much less scientifically useful for DUID investigations. For that reason, law enforcement agencies across the country participate in the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program (DEC), where experienced specially trained police officers referred to as Drug Recognition Evaluators (or Drug Recognition Experts, depending on the court—DRE for short) are taught a 12 step evaluation process to determine what drug (or drugs) someone is on and whether that person is impaired by those drugs. While many defense attorneys challenge the scientific foundations and admissibility of DRE testimony, it has been generally upheld in courts where it has been challenged and can be extremely effective testimony for the prosecution.
However, while the DEC program can present some challenges to defense attorneys, the program is actually extremely helpful to defendants when drugged driving is suspected but no DRE evaluation is performed. Because the DRE training is so intensive, and the overall program so expensive, if a department even has DREs, they are far fewer than the demand for them. This allows a skilled DUI attorney to argue to a jury that a DRE evaluation should have been performed, but was not. This impeaches the integrity of the investigation and highlights for the jury, correctly, that law enforcement did not use all the tools at its disposal to do a thorough investigation.
Another key difference between driving under the influence of alcohol and driving under the influence of drug cases is that, while a person charged with a DUI has the option of choosing either a blood test, a breath test, or refusing (with drastic consequences to one’s license) someone charged with DUID is only offered a blood test. This is due to the fact that an intoxilyzer (commonly referred to as a breathalyzer), can only test for alcohol. To test for drugs, a blood test is necessary. Therefore, if an officer believes he or she has probable cause that someone was driving under the influence of drugs, the officer has the discretion to only offer a blood test. Of course, someone could still refuse—but with a resulting immediate suspension of his or her license.
Criminal Penalties for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs in Colorado
The penalties for driving under the influence of drugs are identical to driving under the influence of alcohol. Except that, as there are no pre-set limits for automatic jail on drug DUIs, no matter how high or impaired someone might be, there is no mandatory jail on a first offense.
However, other penalties for driving under the influence of drugs can carry penalties of up to a year in jail with another year of jail suspended, supervised or unsupervised probation, up to $1,500 dollars in fines, between 24 and 120 hours of community service, and required substance abuse classes and often therapy. In addition, a DUI conviction results in 12 points against your driver’s license, resulting in a suspension of your driving privileges.
Driving while ability impaired by drugs (DWAI) is a lesser included charge to driving under the influence (DUI), and the potential penalties are largely similar, DWAI can carry only up to 180 days in jail and 8 points against your license.
Why Choose Peakstone Law Group To Represent Your DUI Case
Our founder, Patterson Weaver, has the experience you want on your side. As a former prosecutor, in coordination with the Colorado District Attorney’s Counsel, the Colorado Springs Police Department, and the Colorado State Patrol, he prepared for and conducted one of the few Shreck hearings in the State of Colorado on the admissibility of Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) expert testimony regarding the drug evaluation and classification program.
To Peakstone Law Group’s knowledge, the Colorado District Attorney’s Counsel is still using the scripts Patterson Weaver developed and the transcripts of the hearing as training and guidance material for young deputy district attorneys statewide to teach them how to address similar issues. While still a prosecutor, defense lawyer Patterson Weaver was honored with an award for these efforts by the Pikes Peak Regional DUI Task Force.
Now working as a private criminal defense attorney, DUI Lawyer Peakstone Law Group puts that unique experience to work for his clients, with excellent results. For some specific examples, see our Outstanding Case Results page.
Don’t Handle Driving Under the Influence of Drug Cases Alone—Call Peakstone Law Group
Driving under the influence of drugs cases is perhaps the most complex of all DUI cases. While it is ill-advised to handle any driving under the influence case on your own, it is particularly ill-advised to do so in cases where the allegation is drug use, whether it be prescription medications, marijuana, or illegal drugs. Call an experienced and effective lawyer at Peakstone Law Group right away to schedule a free consultation regarding your case. Peakstone Law Group has the experience, knowledge, and ability to help you get the best resolution possible. We have the case results to put your mind at ease! Don’t let a DUI ruin your life — contact a DUI Attorney at Peakstone Law Group today.