My criminal defense firm experiences an uptick in clients this time of year, many of whom are looking for help with DWAI charges (Driving While Ability Impaired) or DUI charges (Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs) that they incurred during the holiday season.
It’s a crazy time of year—I get it. Outside of stress and other types of drama (see my earlier post here about drama), nothing defines the holiday season quite like parties. Take your pick: Thanksgiving parties, office parties, Hanukkah parties, Christmas parties, light parades, winter festivals, New Year’s Eve parties, pre-parties, after parties. You can’t throw a stone between mid-November and early January without hitting someone who is actively partying.
Reflecting on the last few months as I work through my current DUI/DWAI caseload, there’s a lot that people don’t know about alcohol- and drug-related driving offenses. Before you head out on Super Bowl weekend for the NEXT round of parties, here are a few tips from a veteran Colorado DUI attorney.
Exceeding the Blood Alcohol Limit Is Easier than Tapping a Keg
Most of my DUI/DWAI clients didn’t have all that much to drink when they were pulled over and charged. It surprises people how strict Colorado’s laws are when it comes to defining the parameters of intoxication or impairment. What I’m trying to say is that we’re not always talking about the “Terri drank the whole bottle of Pinot before turning to the Syrah” situation.
- body composition
- stomach contents
- drink sizes
- liquor or beer strength (ABV)
It’s Not Always Your Driving that Gets You Pulled Over
Most people would guess that they can competently and safety drive after a single drink. I can’t make any blanket statements as to whether this is true or not. I can point out from experience with Colorado DUI/DWAI clients that it doesn’t really matter whether this is true or not.
Many of my clients were pulled over due to circumstances that had nothing to do with their driving. Perhaps the neighbor’s cat ran in front of the car, causing a collision with a parked Airstream. Maybe an uncoordinated teenager fell off his skateboard in the middle of the intersection, prompting an immediate swerve into a parking meter. You have a tail light that’s on the fritz, or you forgot to signal. Or even more likely, especially later at night: someone with a higher BAC than you caused a traffic accident. These things happen all the time, and the “I was fine to drive” defense doesn’t exist.
Smoking Pot Instead of Drinking Is Not a Solid Alternative If You’re Driving
It is true that marijuana impairment is harder to detect from a testing standpoint than alcohol intoxication. But cops get tons of training on drugged driving—sometimes even more training for drug cases than those involving alcohol. Cops also have “cop experts” called Drug Recognition Experts (or DREs), who can oftentimes accurately guess what type of drug you’re on just by how you’re acting. And—in a state with legal MJ like Colorado—it’s not even much of a guessing game for your average patrol cop to spot marijuana use.
Unlike alcohol, the measurable impairments of marijuana use are not as obvious, though. And while blood tests can detect THC, it is difficult to make conclusive ties between the presence of THC and the driver’s performance-impaired behavior. Read: it’s possible with enough practice to get really good at acting sober even when high. But, your blood doesn’t lie. The legal driving limit for marijuana in Colorado is set so that you can be found guilty of driving high even if you do not think you are experiencing the effects of THC at the time. How is this possible? Simple, THC stays in blood a lot longer than booze does, and habitual users have longer-lasting positive blood results.
Opting to smoke (or ingest) weed and drive after the game is not a safe or smart alternative to drinking and driving. The better option, of course, is not to drive at all. And whatever you do, don’t mix drugs and alcohol of any sort before driving. Your defense will easily surpass the $10K mark once you start having to hire experts to interpret your blood results.
If you ignore my advice and still drive … well … I’m still here for you.
Look—the reality is that good people make mistakes and get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t. If you’ve been pulled over for a DUI/DWAI and nobody was hurt, consider yourself lucky. Also consider yourself in need of an experienced defense attorney! While very common, these offenses have serious consequences in terms of fees and potential loss of driving privileges. I’ve spent years as a DUI/DWAI defense attorney, and before opening my Fort Collins law firm I worked on the other side as a District Attorney prosecuting these cases down in the Denver metro area. I understand the system in a way that most average DUI/DWAI attorneys do not.
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