Amid the seemingly endless national media coverage of Colorado's legalization of marijuana, including legalization's effect on drugged driving, Colorado lawmakers are also focusing on the more well-known issue of drunk driving. A proposed measure currently in the state House of Representatives would make repeat drunk driving convictions a felony, regardless of whether the drunk driver was in an accident or injured another person while on the road.
Colorado is currently one of six states that do not make repeat DUI offenses a felony. Currently, a DUI that does not involve an injury or other mitigating circumstances is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, fines and license revocation.
Colorado already recently increased penalties for drivers who refuse an alcohol breath test or who are arrested with a high blood alcohol content. As of 2014, a one-time arrest with a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher or a refused breathalyzer test classifies the driver as a persistent drunk driver, bringing with it a license suspension and an ignition interlock device installation requirement for two years.
Under the proposed measure sponsored by Representative Mark Waller, currently in the state Judiciary and Appropriations Committee, a DUI arrest would be a class 4 felony if the conviction was the third in seven years or a fourth DUI within a person's lifetime.
Last year Rep. Waller proposed a similar measure, but other legislators believed it would raise prison costs too much. Some changes have been made to the previous version: namely, there is no mandatory incarceration in the current bill and the 2013 version made a repeat DUI a Class 5 felony.
If the bill passes in its current form a conviction could bring up to six years in prison. However, Rep. Waller indicated the intended purpose of the bill was not to increase prison time for offenders but to encourage treatment options and completion for individuals struggling with addiction.
Driving under the influence is dangerous, whether the intoxicating substance is alcohol, marijuana or other drug. While Colorado may soon debate making penalties even tougher, even a one-time conviction can bring life-altering consequences. A misdemeanor is no laughing matter, and a revocation of driving privileges can affect a person's ability to get to work and provide for family.
Colorado residents facing DUI charges should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure their rights are protected throughout court proceedings.