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When Drunk Driving Is A Felony v. A Misdemeanor


If you’re unfamiliar with how driving laws can vary from state to state, you may be wondering, “is a DUI a felony in Colorado?” The short answer is, “it can be,” but you’ll want to read on to see what those specific circumstances entail, and when, precisely, drunk driving crosses the line past being a mere misdemeanor. Here’s what you should know…

Like other states, in Colorado, driving with a BAC (blood alcohol content) that is greater than 0.08 percent qualifies as driving under the influence. Most often, DUI offenses in Colorado are treated as misdemeanor charges. This means that, in a good number of incidents, a first DUI might be met with a light fine, community service, suspended license, mandatory alcohol education, or even a bit of jail time. Second and third DU offenses are still misdemeanors, but can be met with slightly harsher penalties, and perhaps up to a year in jail.

Additionally, if you are arrested for driving with a BAC that is greater than 0.15 percent—even on a first offense—you could be treated as if you were a repeat DUI offender on your second or third conviction. Now, when does that become a felony? Usually in one of three instances:

  • You have three previous DUI convictions (making the most recent conviction your fourth) OR
  • Your impaired driving resulted in serious bodily injury to another person (this is known as vehicular assault) OR
  • Your impaired driving caused a fatal accident, which is referred to as vehicular homicide.

Colorado has a “fourth strike” policy, so even if your fourth DUI offense caused no injuries to anyone, it will still be considered a Class 4 felony. It doesn’t matter how long ago your prior three convictions were, as there is no “washout” period for DUIs in Colorado. The state within which you were previously convicted of DUI offenses is similarly irrelevant, nor does it matter whether they had different legal names (such as DWIs or OUIs).

DUI cases that result in serious bodily injury also count as Class 4 felonies. For reference, minor injuries like scrapes and bruises would not typically count as serious enough to warrant a felony offense, but disfigurement, loss of bodily function, breaks and fractures, severe burns, or anything else that significantly impacts the life of another would.

Which leads us to DUI cases that result in death. These are Class 3 felonies, even if you have no prior convictions, and come with the most significant penalties. Speaking broadly, the types of punishments you can expect from felony DUI convictions include a mixture of heavy fines and significant prison time. Those Class 4 felonies, for instance, might come with 2-6 in a Colorado State prison, a 3-year parole period, and a fine of up to $500,000. 

Meanwhile, a Class 3 felony DUI charge might result in a maximum of 12 years in prison, with a 5-year parole period and a fine of up to $750,000. So, to circle back to our original question, yes, a DUI can be a felony charge—one that comes with a rather high price at that.

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