After a long legislative battle, the Felony DUI bill (HB15-1043) passed. Colorado just one of five states without a felony DUI law.
In the end, the bill that passed was significantly scaled back from the original draft. The new statute will create a class 4 felony AFTER three or more prior convictions for DWAI, DUI, or DUI per se, DUID, vehicular homicide, or vehicular assault, arising out of separate distinct criminal episodes.
The bill changes the penalty for aggravated driving with a revoked license from a class 6 felony to a class 1 misdemeanor but requires a sentencing court to ensure that an offender spends a minimum of 60 days in a county jail.
In addition, the bill requires that if the court sentences the defendant to the DOC for a felony DUI, DUI per se, or DWAI offense, it must determine that incarceration is the most suitable option given the facts and circumstances of the case, including the defendant’s willingness to participate in treatment. The court shall also consider whether all other reasonable and appropriate sanctions and responses to the violation that are available to the court have been exhausted and do not appear likely to be successful, or if there is an unacceptable risk to public safety.
The bill also allows for community corrections residential treatment as a condition of probation for a third alcohol related offense in seven years. It allows for interlock for a multiple DUI offender for at least two, and up to five, years, and also mandates interlock for offenders on parole after conviction of Felony DUI.
As an organization and as individuals, we certainly do not want to minimize the impact or seriousness of impaired driving; however, research does not support the creation of a felony crime for the purpose of decreasing drunk-driving incidents. Rates of drunk-driving are no lower in states that have felony DUI laws and, while prison can “protect” society by keeping someone locked up and unable to cause harm, the prison system does little to rehabilitate the offender or make them less likely to re-offend. In fact, the incarceration time could make an addict more likely to re-offend by destabilizing his or her life in such a powerful way; loss of social connections; loss of employment; and the added stress of being a felon. Evidence supports increased early interventions, including DUI courts, to decrease rates of drunk driving accidents. Unfortunately, these facts did not sway the politicians, who were convinced by public sentiment.