If you are charged with driving under the influence in the state of Colorado, you should know what to expect. This is a timeline of how the entire process works, from the moment you’re pulled over, to the completion of sentencing.
1. Your Arrest
The police have the right to pull you over for a wide variety of reasons (including very minor infractions, like driving slightly over the speed limit, or failing to use your turn signal.) If you have been pulled over, and the police ask you to test your alcohol level by taking a breath or blood test, you should not refuse. Refusing will result in your drivers license being revoked for at least a year. (You do, however, have the right to refuse to take roadside tests.)
If the police suspect that you are intoxicated, they will almost certainly arrest you. So long as you didn’t refuse to consent to testing, then you will be given either a blood test or a breath test to determine your Blood Alcohol Content. You can choose whether you want the blood test or the breath test.
If the results of your test show that your Blood Alcohol Content was above the legal limit for driving under the influence – which is .08 if you are 21 or over, and .02 if you are under 21 – then you will be given a notice that your drivers license has been revoked. (You should be aware, however, that the notice itself can be used as a permit to drive for up to seven days after you receive it.)
If you wish to have a DMV hearing, in which a Hearing Officer determines what will happen to your driving privileges, you must request a hearing in writing within seven days of receiving this notice. If you do not request a hearing within seven days, then you lose your right to a hearing altogether, and you will lose your license for up to one year – so it’s best to make the request.
In addition to the notice that your drivers license has been revoked, you will also receive a Uniform Summons and Complaint. This will give you the information you need about when and where your arraignment will take place.
2. Your DMV Hearing
If you request a hearing, then you will be sent a Notice of Hearing letter, which will tell you the date of your hearing. Generally, this date will be within 60 days of when you requested the hearing. You have the right to request that the police officer who arrested you be in attendance.
In the hearing, a Hearing Officer will decide whether your drivers license will be revoked. The Hearing Officer will consider evidence such as the report filed by the arresting officer, the results of chemical tests, and any testimony that is given. You may bring an attorney with you to the hearing, to make your case for you.
If the judge finds that the charge was invalid, your license will be restored. If the judge finds that the charge was valid, then your license will be revoked for a period of time, which will be at least three months. If your license is revoked, you can ask the judge for a probationary license, but there is a chance that your request will not be granted.
3. Your Arraignment
The arraignment is your initial court date, and it is the first step of the criminal process. The criminal process is separate from your DMV Hearing.
At your arraignment, a judge will officially advise of your rights, and explain the charges against you. You will then have an opportunity to enter a plea. (You can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest.)
The main purpose of an arraignment is to ensure that you understand your rights. If you have an attorney, your attorney will advise of your rights, and so the arraignment may be waived by the court. If the arraignment is waived, then a date will be set for your pre-trial conference.
4. Your Pre-Trial Conference
This is a scheduled court appearance, in which your attorney and the prosecuting attorney will attempt to reach an agreement. There may be several pre-trial conferences. While it is common for a plea bargain to be agreed upon the conclusion of a pre-trial conference, there is no guarantee that the parties will come to any sort of an agreement.
5. Your Suppression Hearing
If there is no agreement after the pre-trial conference stage, then both sides will begin preparing for trial. Before trial, there will be a suppression hearing, in which your attorney will attempt to have certain evidence from your case excluded from the trial. The court may agree to exclude the evidence, if it finds that the evidence was obtained improperly.
6. Your Trial
If the defense attorney and the prosecuting attorney still have not come to an agreement, then the case will proceed to trial. Deals can still be struck after a trial has begun, but if there is no deal, then both sides will make their cases, and the jury will render a verdict.
If the jury finds you not guilty of the charges against you, then the criminal process will be complete, and you will not face any criminal repercussions. This does not mean, though, that your license will be immediately restored to you. If your license was revoked at your DMV Hearing (or if you did not request a DMV Hearing), the revocation will stand, regardless of what happened regarding your criminal charges.
7. Your Sentencing
If you pled guilty, or if a jury found you guilty, then your next step will be the sentencing phase. This will be your final court date. The judge will make a sentencing determination, which you will then be required to carry out.
If you would like to conclude these processes as quickly as possible, with as light a sentence as possible, you should speak with an attorney. An attorney with experience in DUI cases will be able to guide you through both the criminal process and the DMV process and advise you on your best courses of action.