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One Compact to Rule Them All: How Colorado Handles Your Out-of-State DUI

The season of summer weddings and school holidays, road trips, and reunions is finally here. Those far-flung, boozy celebrations arrive just in time for a nationwide crackdown on drunk driving, though, so what’s the deal with getting a DUI in a state other than your own?

First of all, the same general rules apply across the United States. The legal blood alcohol content level is 0.08; nearly every state has “implied” or “express” consent laws that allow you to refuse a blood or breath test (with penalties). Open containers are banned in vehicles almost everywhere. Beyond that, 45 states have reciprocity agreements under something called an “interstate compact,” which is just a fancy way of saying they exchange information about traffic violations (its slogan is “One Driver, One License, One Record). Colorado takes part in this consortium, yet it’s one of the few states to only call upon the powers of the compact for major offenses (drunk driving, reckless driving, etc.); it’s not going to be bothered over that speeding ticket you received zooming up California’s Route 1.

In a test of your allegiance to the Centennial State, however, the compact includes a uniformity clause entitling all participating states to apply their own laws to out-of-state transgressions. Therefore, Colorado will treat a DUI arrest in Hawaii just as if it happened near Coors Field or Red Rocks. This is important because the driver in question could be subject to two very different sentences; whereas this would be a first drunk-driving offense (hopefully) in Hawaii, Colorado would dredge up that DUI from years past and consider it a second offense overall.

While the state you are visiting will issue fines and conduct all courtroom business, it does not have the right to revoke your license completely. In the scenario above, you won’t be saying “aloha” to your license in Honolulu. Still, Colorado will likely take action to suspend or revoke the license once you return to home turf. This is true in reverse as well. If a Hawaiian is charged with drunk driving while cruising the streets of Denver, Colorado can ban him only from driving here for up to a year; the Aloha State will deal with the general validity of his license.

There is, naturally, an exception to this rule. The home state and the arresting state must have equivalent statutes for the penalties to count. For example, texting while driving is against the law in Colorado but not in Arizona. Although a Phoenix-based driver will have to pay local fines if he is pulled over for this offense in Colorado, Arizona will not take any additional action against him. A case could be made that both states’ statutes are “substantially similar,” though, so don’t depend on a technicality, such as DWAI vs. DWI, to save the day.

All that being said, a Coloradoan who receives a DUI in another state will still:

  • Lose their driving privileges in that state.
  • Be required to pay local fines and serve any necessary jail time before being permitted to leave that state.
  • Receive a summons for a court date in that state—and a warrant for arrest if that court date is skipped.
  • Face consequences in Colorado.

The National Driver Register keeps track of your driving record and notes which states have revoked or suspended your license, so there’s no point in trying to dodge an out-of-state DUI; it will eventually catch up with you. While you’ll need to secure sound legal representation in the arresting state, contact Thomas Law Firm to protect yourself on the home front as well—or better yet, just designate a sober driver at your buddy’s Napa weddings in the first place.


As summer festivities kick off, individuals must be aware of the legal implications of a DUI arrest in a state other than their own. While there are general rules such as the 0.08 legal blood alcohol content limit and widespread open container bans, each state’s participation in the “interstate compact” adds a layer of complexity. Colorado’s adherence to this compact means that an out-of-state DUI can have significant consequences, as the home state reserves the right to apply its laws to the offense committed elsewhere. Though the reciprocity agreements provide a level of uniformity, they still allow for penalty variations based on each state’s statutes.

Moreover, the conclusion underscores the importance of understanding the potential repercussions for both the state where the offense occurs and the driver’s home state. Despite fines and courtroom proceedings being handled by the arresting state, the home state can take action, such as license suspension or revocation upon the individual’s return. It is emphasized that evading consequences is futile, as the National Driver Register keeps a comprehensive record of license status across states. In light of these complexities, the recommendation is made to seek legal representation promptly, both in the arresting state and at home, or better yet, to avoid the risk altogether by designating a sober driver during summer celebrations.

Do you have further questions or concerns? Call us or contact the attorneys at Thomas & Ahnell, LLC, and we will be happy to help.

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