In states like Colorado, the act of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is defined as DWAI or Driving While Ability Impaired. A DWAI is different than a DUI. Unlike a DUI, which references the act of driving under the influence of alcohol, a DWAI refers to driving a motor vehicle while impaired because of drug use or alcohol consumption.
With that, a DWAI conviction carries with it different legal penalties. You can avoid getting a charge and conviction of DWAI by learning exactly what this offense is and how states with Driving While Ability Impaired laws punish it.
What is DWAI?
DWAI stands for Driving While Ability Impaired. It is the criminal act of driving under either the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The definition of drugs in states with DWAI laws refers to illegal or controlled substances like marijuana, heroin, or cocaine. It also refers to prescription or over-the-counter medications like codeine, cough syrup, and cold medications that can cause intoxication if misused.
To determine if a motorist is Driving While Ability Impaired, states with DWAI laws set their blood alcohol content, or BAC, level at 0.05 rather than 0.08, which is the standard for DUI laws. If a driver who is 21 years old or older has a BAC that is 0.05 or higher, he or she can be arrested for and charged with DWAI.
The BAC limit for drivers under 21 is 0.02. If a driver under this age has a BAC of 0.02 or higher, he or she can likewise face arrest for and being charged with DWAI.
Law enforcement in DWAI states are trained to recognize the signs of Driving While Ability Impaired. The primary behaviors of Driving While Ability Impaired are:
- weaving across both lanes of traffic
- not using the headlights during nighttime hours
- riding over the center lane or shoulder marker
- starting and then stopping erratically
- tailgating other vehicles
- signaling that does not match the driving actions
If a law enforcement officer witnesses a driver engaging in these types of behaviors, the officer can pull over the motorist to administer field sobriety tests. The tests might include blowing into a breathalyzer, which is a handheld device that provides a fast reading of the driver’s BAC. The driver may also be subjected to field sobriety testing like walking in a straight line, reciting the alphabet backwards, or standing on one leg while maintaining balance.
States with DWAI laws do not give drivers the option of refusing field sobriety testing. In agreement to the privilege of having a driver’s license, drivers in these states also agree to implied consent laws, meaning they must by law undergo DWAI sobriety testing if they are detained on suspicion of Driving While Ability Impaired. If they refuse DWAI testing, they can still be arrested and have their licenses suspended for up to one year for a first offense, up to two to three years for subsequent DWAI testing refusals.
How is a DWAI Punished?
States with Driving While Ability Impaired laws punish DWAI in a variety of ways. The legal and civil consequences of DWAI will depend on a number of factors. Among them, the driver’s age, driving record, and criminal history are taken into consideration before punishment for DWAI is meted out by the courts.
Nonetheless, the common DWAI punishments for first-time offenders are a civil fine of up to $500, eight points on the person’s driving record, and up to 96 hours of community service. A person convicted for a second time of Driving While Ability Impaired faces punishments of up to one year in jail, fines of up to $1500, and a one-year suspension of his or her driver’s license. Third and subsequent offenses for DWAI can include up to one year in jail, fines of up to $1500, and a two-year suspension of the person’s driver’s license.
If the motorist’s BAC level was at or barely above the 0.05 percent limit, he or she may be able to argue down the charges to a charge of wet reckless. Wet reckless is essentially a charge of reckless driving and carries with it less severe punishments of smaller civil fines and court-ordered alcohol or drug rehabilitation. Once the motorist completes rehabilitation under the diversionary program, his or her DWAI conviction may be expunged from the driving and arrest records.
To argue down to a charge of wet reckless, however, defendants are required to do so with the assistance of a DWAI attorney. The attorney can make the motion in court and argue that the defendant’s BAC was at or barely above the legal DWAI limit and therefore should not incur harsher penalties like civil fines and jail time.
Dealing with a DWAI Charge
What should you do if you find yourself arrested for and charged with Driving While Ability Impaired? You should first hire a skilled DWAI attorney to take your case. You can hire a lawyer before or after your arraignment on DWAI charges. If possible, you should retain an attorney before your arraignment so he or she can represent you during this initial court appearance.
Having a skilled DWAI attorney working your case can be critical if you want to avoid the harshest legal penalties that come with this offense. Your lawyer can begin advocating for you by reviewing the circumstances of your arrest.
This examination can involve verifying your BAC level and determining how law enforcement field tested you for inebriated driving. If your attorney can call into question the field sobriety or breathalyzer test you took, he or she may be able to have the charges against you dropped or reduced.
Your attorney can also argue in court reasons why you should avoid having the harshest penalties meted out to you. For example, if you did not harm personal or public property and caused no harm to people while you were driving under the influence, you may be eligible for community service or a shorter jail sentence than one that requires you to spend months or years in prison.
A lawyer can be a valuable ally as well if you want the conviction to be expunged from your record as soon as possible. You might be eligible for an expungement if you served your sentence and paid your fine. As long as you have no other DWAI convictions on your record, you and your attorney could ask the court to expunge this conviction.
While you have the right to defend yourself in court, you may not find it to be the wisest choice if you want to avoid going to jail and having to pay steep civil penalties. Your lawyer can advocate for you and represent you in all of your court appearances. With his or her help, you could resume your normal life sooner after your arrest and conviction.
Driving While Ability Impaired is a serious charge in states with DWAI laws. This offense is different than a DUI or DWI. It carries with it its own set of legal punishments like jail time and fines that can severely impact your finances, freedom, and future.