A Guide on Colorado DUI Statute of Limitations
In Colorado, driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense with potentially life-changing consequences. But what if you’ve been accused of DUI but haven’t yet been officially charged? Does the prosecution’s time ever run out? The answer is found in the concept of the statute of limitations. This legal safeguard establishes a timeframe for prosecuting offenses. This guide explains Colorado’s DUI statute of limitations, and it is our hope that the information presented will help prepare you to navigate this difficult situation.
What Is the Statute of Limitations, and Why Does It Exist?
The statute of limitations is a legal timeframe establishing a deadline for prosecuting a criminal offense. Its purpose is to protect the rights of the accused, ensure fairness for defendants, promote judicial efficiency, and prevent the reappearance of stale evidence. Statute of limitations laws serve several important purposes in the criminal justice system, such as:
- Preventing the loss or deterioration of evidence over time, which can significantly impact the fairness and accuracy of a trial;
- Avoiding faded or distorted witness memories and reducing the risk of false or unreliable testimony;
- Encouraging the prompt investigation and prosecution of crimes, ensuring that justice is served as expeditiously as possible;
- Providing certainty and closure for both the accused and the victims; and
- Preventing potential injustices that could arise from delayed or prolonged legal proceedings.
If the prosecution does not file charges within the timeframe, the case is dismissed, and you cannot be tried for that offense.
What Elements Make Up a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations has two main elements: length and tolling.
The length is the amount of time that the prosecution has after the offense has occurred to file charges. This timeframe varies depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the offense. For example, the statute of limitations for assault may be longer in some cases than for larceny.
Tolling is a pause or extension of the statute of limitations in certain circumstances, such as when the accused is out of state or in hiding. Tolling can also occur when the victim is a minor or incapacitated, allowing for an extension of the time limit until they reach a certain age or regain the capacity to pursue legal action.
Does a DUI Have a Statute of Limitations in Colorado?
Whether your DUI is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony determines the statute of limitations for that case.
- Misdemeanor DUI—the prosecution has 18 months from the date of the alleged offense to file charges;
- Felony DUI—the State has three years from the date of the alleged offense to file charges; and
- Felony DUI with death and leaving the scene—the State has five years from the date of discovery of death.
If the prosecution does not file charges within these timeframes, they are generally barred from doing so in the future. The statute of limitations on a DUI, however, can be temporarily suspended for up to five years if you leave Colorado within that time. You can still face charges upon your return to the state if it’s within five years of the alleged offense.
Even if the statute of limitations has passed, you may face other legal consequences. Civil suits or administrative actions can still be brought against you. To fully understand the potential implications of your situation, you should consult with a qualified Boulder DUI attorney.
Understanding What Constitutes a DUI in Colorado
Colorado defines driving under the influence as operating a motor vehicle while:
- Having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher, regardless of impairment level;
- Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs to a degree that renders you incapable of safely operating a vehicle;
- Having any amount of a controlled substance, whether prescribed or illegal, in your system, such as marijuana or cocaine; and
- Refusing to take a field sobriety or chemical test to determine your BAC when requested by law enforcement.
Dealing with a DUI charge is a complicated process. That’s why talking to a knowledgeable DUI lawyer is important.
How Long Does a DUI Charge Stay on Your Criminal Record?
In Colorado, a DUI charge remains on your criminal record indefinitely unless you qualify for and successfully seal your record or expunge the charge. Sealing or expungement removes your arrest and conviction records from public view, allowing you to legally deny having such charges. However, not all DUI cases are eligible for sealing or expungement, and you must meet certain conditions and waiting periods. An experienced criminal defense attorney in Boulder can help you with the expungement process.
How Long Does a DUI Charge Stay on Your Driving Record?
A DUI conviction in Colorado remains on your driving record for 10 years, affecting your life in a variety of ways.
- Suspension of your driver’s license. Depending on the severity of the offense and your prior record, your license could be suspended for months or even years.
- Higher insurance rates. Having a DUI on your record will likely result in significantly higher car insurance premiums.
- Employment obstacles. A DUI conviction can make getting certain jobs difficult, particularly those requiring driving or involving public safety.
- Mandatory alcohol or drug treatment program. You may also be required to attend alcohol or drug treatment or education programs to address any underlying issues related to alcohol abuse.
A DUI conviction also carries a social stigma that can have an impact on your personal relationships and social standing in your community.
What About Colorado’s Lookback Period for DUIs?
A lookback period for DUIs is a term that refers to how long a previous DUI conviction can affect the penalties for a current and subsequent DUI offense. Unlike some states that have a specific time limit for considering prior DUIs, Colorado does not have an official lookback period. Any previous DUI conviction, no matter how long ago, can be used to increase the charges and penalties for a new DUI offense. How heavily it weighs against you is really a matter of judicial discretion. But overall, the Colorado legal system considers repeat DUI offenses to be a pattern of behavior that requires harsher penalties.
However, if you have been convicted of DUI within the last five years, a judge will give that considerable weight when determining your sentence for a current DUI. If you have three or more prior convictions within the past seven years, a judge will likely give that considerable weight during sentencing.
How Do You Defend Against DUI Charges in Colorado?
In Colorado, dealing with a DUI charge can be difficult. Effective defense tactics are at your disposal to dispute the prosecution’s allegations and safeguard your rights. Here are some key strategies to explore.
- Scrutinizing the stop. Was the initial traffic stop justified because the officer had a reasonable suspicion that you were committing a crime? Challenging the legality of the stop can potentially suppress any evidence obtained afterward, weakening the prosecution’s case significantly.
- Questioning the test results. Breathalyzers and blood tests, while important tools—aren’t foolproof. Challenging the maintenance, calibration, procedures, or even underlying science behind the test can raise reasonable doubt about its accuracy and cast a shadow on the prosecution’s case.
- Examining law enforcement’s conduct. Was the arresting officer properly trained, and did they follow proper procedures throughout the interaction? Uncovering inconsistencies or protocol violations can discredit the officer’s testimony and strengthen your defense.
- Medical considerations. Certain medical conditions, medications, or even recent consumption of certain foods can mimic intoxication and affect BAC readings. Presenting medical evidence demonstrating such factors can raise reasonable doubt about your actual impairment level.
- Ignition interlock compliance. If you were previously convicted of DUI and installed an ignition interlock device (IID), you can highlight your consistent compliance with its requirements and demonstrate genuine remorse and a willingness to accept responsibility. This can potentially influence plea bargain negotiations in your favor.
- Exploring plea bargains. Sometimes, negotiating a plea bargain for a lesser charge or lighter sentence can be a viable option. Your lawyer can assess the prosecution’s strength and negotiate the best possible outcome for your specific situation.
Every DUI case is unique. The most effective defense strategy depends on the details and evidence involved. Consulting an experienced DUI lawyer is crucial. They can delve into the intricacies of your case, identify potential weaknesses in the prosecution’s arguments, and develop a tailored defense strategy to maximize your chances of success.
What to Do After an Arrest for DUI in Colorado?
After you are arrested for DUI in Colorado, you must act quickly to protect your rights and driving privileges. You should contact a DUI defense attorney as soon as possible to help you with the criminal law and DMV administrative processes.
Why Should You Choose The Ferrell Law Firm, PLLC, for Your DUI Defense?
A DUI charge can be unnerving, and we understand your anxiety and apprehension. Our DUI lawyers serve clients throughout Colorado and are dedicated to defending your rights and freedom. With a proven track record of success in DUI defense cases, our attorneys leverage our extensive criminal defense experience to obtain favorable results.Whether you face a first-time DUI or a more serious felony DUI charge, our knowledgeable attorneys offer individualized, professional representation, ensuring that every facet of your case is carefully considered and defended. Contact The Ferrell Law Firm, PLLC, today for a free consultation.