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How Colorado's felony DUI law may influence your defense strategy

People find themselves facing charges for driving under the influence (DUI) in Colorado for many different reasons. Maybe you thought you were okay to drive, but you got stopped as part of a sobriety checkpoint and the breath test indicated you had had too much to drink. Perhaps law enforcement thought that symptoms of a medical condition were evidence of impaired driving.

Whatever the circumstances, you need to make an informed decision about how you handle the charges. Many people are quick to plead guilty to DUI offenses, believing that if they do so, they can minimize the impact on their life. They want to avoid missing work for court or having people find out about the charges.

However, just a few years ago, Colorado changed its laws to create felony DUI charges. The potential for a felony record should impact the way that you approach any pending DUI charges. Pleading guilty to a fourth or earlier DUI could put you at risk for serious future consequences.

When will Colorado drivers face felony DUI charges?

You have to have a history of impaired driving convictions to wind up charged with a felony under Colorado's current DUI statute. Anyone with three previous DUI convictions could find that their fourth charge is a felony DUI.

Unlike in other states, which limit how long a past impaired driving offense will impact future sentencing, Colorado allows for prosecutors to look back at your lifetime record, meaning a DUI from 20 years ago can still count against you.

What are the differences between felony and misdemeanor charges?

Felonies and misdemeanors are different categories of crimes. Felonies are more serious. Most impaired driving cases are misdemeanor cases, but if you have three previous offenses, you will likely face a Class 4 felony charge. The penalties for felonies are more severe than those for misdemeanors.

You could be looking at between 90 days and six years in county jail, probation, public service, alcohol safety courses and the loss of your license, as well as fines of as much as $500,000.

The final difference between felony and misdemeanor charges is the way that those charges look on a background check. Most employers are willing to forgive or overlook minor misdemeanors, but most are more wary of felony convictions.

Even if this is not your fourth charge, you should also think carefully about your future and whether fighting first, second or third DUI charges may be in your best interest to help you avoid a potential felony charge in the future. Discussing your situation with a Colorado attorney who has experience in DUI defense is a good first step toward minimizing the impact of these charges on your life.

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