DWAI Vs. DUI: What’s the Difference?

DUI Lawyer

While the exact charges that apply to someone who is being accused of driving after drinking or using drugs vary by state, there are generally two types of charges that people are familiar with: driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while ability impaired (DWAI). If you are facing any of these types of charges, it’s important to learn about them and contact a criminal lawyer in Denver, CO as soon as you can to protect your rights and your future.


When you are charged with driving while ability impaired, it means you were behind the wheel but your ability to drive was affected by drugs or alcohol in the “slightest degree.” This is also more commonly known as “buzzed driving.” Normally, you will not have your license revoked due to a DWAI charge, but it does come with serious potential penalties.

For a first DWAI offense in Colorado, a person may receive up to 180 days in jail, a fine of up to $500, court-ordered community service, and eight points on your driver’s license. If you have previous DWAI convictions, these penalties all increase.


Driving under the influence is generally a misdemeanor offense in Colorado, and it does not always result in huge fines or jail time. It can, however, result in your license being suspended and become part of your record, and it can be very, very serious if you have already had alcohol or drug-related driving convictions in the past. Because you are more impaired than someone charged with a DWAI, the penalties are steeper.

For a first DUI conviction in Colorado, you can be facing anywhere from five days to one year in jail, a fine between $600 to $1,000, community service and a driver’s license suspension of up to nine months. Keeping in mind that if you have a blood alcohol concentration of .15 percent or higher, you will be labeled as a persistent drunk driver and charged as a repeat offender even if it is your first offense. In addition, a DUI is considered a second offense if you’ve had another DUI in any US territory or state.

As a second-time DUI offender, you are facing ten days to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,500, a one-year driver’s license suspension, community service, and having to have an ignition interlock device on your car for two years once you get your license back. These devices come with fees you will have to pay to keep your license.

As a third or fourth time DUI offender, the penalties and consequences of a conviction greatly increase. As a fourth time DUI offender you may be charged with a felony, and if convicted could face prison time. 

In addition to these penalties, you may also receive points on your license–under the point system, you can lose your license if you receive too many points–and have to take court-ordered alcohol education classes.

Refusing a breath test

When you drive a car in Colorado, you are giving consent to a blood or breathalyzer test if you are arrested for suspected DWAI or DUI. You can refuse the test, but you will automatically lose your license for a year. To get your license back at the end of that year, you need to get an ignition interlock device installed on your car for two years. In addition, your breath test refusal can be used against you in court as evidence of your guilt.

If you are facing DUI or DWAI charges, it’s important you move quickly to defend yourself. Contact a lawyer in Denver, CO about your case today.

Thanks to Richard J. Banta, P.C. for their insight into criminal defense and DUI charges.