A Short History of Colorado’s Felony DUI Bills and Laws

In the scope of Colorado’s last century of growth and the constitutional history and legal development of the United States, Colorado’s DUI laws are in an adolescent phase. Criminal sentencing laws, however, are not. The regeneration of marijuana laws, the explosive new speed of medical and scientific research, and the centuries-old debates of sentencing and punishment all intersect with the proposition for a felony sentence for repeat DUI offenders.

Recent History of Felony DUI Bills in Colorado

The most recent bill to be proposed and passed was HB 17-1288. This bill became law on August 9th, 2017, and it sets minimum sentences for felony DUI convictions, which is written about in more detail here. This bill requires the court to order as a condition of probation that the Defendant serve a minimum of 90 days in jail or 120 days in jail for if an alternative sentence program (like work release) is available and authorized.

Prior to HB 17-1288, a proposition for a felony sentence for repeat DUI offenders was proposed in the Colorado legislature on January 7, 2015, via HB15-1043. This bill which passed the house with ease, under “A Bill for an Act Concerning Penalties for DUI Offenders” was a successful attempt to increase sentencing penalties for DUI habitual offenders regardless of whether injury has occurred. This bill was signed into law with an effective date of August 5, 2015. (This bill was proposed and passed despite Colorado’s ten-year trend of reducing DUI fatalities without increased penalties. Other states, such as Texas and North Dakota, have had an increase in DUI fatalities while having a repeat offender DUI felony bill enacted.)

A similar bill, HB14-1036, was presented to the Colorado House a year earlier on January 8, 2014. Preceded by the 2015 and 2014 drunk driving bills was the 2013 bill, HB-13-1214, “Concerning the classification of certain drunk driving offenses as felonies, and, in connection therewith, making an appropriation.” The primary difference between these bills is that the 2013 bill proposed making repeat DUI offenders a Class 5 felony, and the 2014 and 2015 bills proposed a more severe Class 4 felony.

Recent History of Felony DUI Related Case Law

The difference between a felony and misdemeanor is the severity of the crime. Within crimes, there are also varying level degrees of offenses. In People v. Zweygardt (2012 COA 119, ¶ 13, 298 P.3d 1018, 1021) careless driving was determined not to be a lesser offense of vehicular assault, and in People v. Cruthers (124 P.3d 887, 890-91 (Colo. App. 2005)) and People v. Grassi (192 P.3d 496, 500 (Colo. App. 2008)), DUI was determined to be a lesser offense. Double jeopardy Constitutional Laws in the Fifth Amendment protect individuals from being charged for the same criminal act twice, as we can see in the 2013 decision People v. Smoots (2013 COA 152 No. 11CA2381). A drunk or drugged driver who injures or kills someone when driving and who also received a charge under the traffic misdemeanor laws of Title 42 in the Colorado statutes will receive a felony under Title 18 of Colorado Criminal Laws and receive a dismissal of the DUI misdemeanor, not the felony, when all elements of evidence are the same, because of constitutional double jeopardy laws.

Comparison of 2013, 2014 and 2015 Repeat Offender Felony DUI Bills:


NEW comparison of repeat offender felony dui bills


Decades of Attitude Change

Felony laws and drunkenness laws have existed since before the Revolutionary War, and we no longer use the stockades of the early 1600s for punishment as we once did. Though the first person arrested for drunk driving was in 1897, prohibition wasn’t repealed until 1933. BAC levels were established by the American Medical Association shortly thereafter, and then in 1953 the Borkenstein breathalyzer was invented.

After the civil rights movement and increased awareness in racial disparity, the 1970s brought about a trend in sentencing disassembly and reassembly. In the 1980s, the “War on Drugs” was created, the Federal minimum drinking age of 21 was established (states lost highway funding if they didn’t raise the age), MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) was founded, and sentencing became harsher resulting in extreme increases in prison population, racial disparity, and costs.

U.S. Attorneys should refrain from using “draconian mandatory minimum sentences” in response to certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenses. – Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, 2013 (Source: Vera Institute of Justice, 2014)

It wasn’t until 1991, that the FBI started including DWI arrests in the Uniform Crime Report, at which time Colorado had some of the highest arrest rates, but the sharpest declines between 1991 and 1997. A decline in DUI fatalities trended in the 21st century. In 1993, Colorado Law Review formed a special symposium to address sentencing, and by 1998, all states had adopted the age of 21 for minimum-age drinking (Colorado adopted the law in 1987). Sentencing laws trended towards rehabilitation over imprisonment.

“Behavior modification for such individuals provides the best opportunity to change the conduct that leads to drinking and driving. Persons who meet the definition of a persistent drunk driver can benefit from education and treatment from qualified providers to assist them in making behavior modifications.” – Colorado Legislature, 2001

The 21st century brought about a new-found liberation in marijuana laws, impressive genetic and addiction-related medical discoveries, technological advancements in alcohol-detection, and a surge in data collection. With all the new discoveries and changes, the amount of data on high recidivism for felons, rising prison costs and Supreme Court decisions on the Sixth Amendment and criminal sentencing, the felony DUI laws should be shelved permanently.

Laws for sentencing and aggravating circumstances surrounding DUI convictions are always subject to change. If you’ve received a DUI, call the Tiftickjian Law Firm in Denver for help today. You need an attorney that is up to date on the changes in Colorado DUI law.


Tiftickjian Law Firm Felony DUI History Collection

History of Colorado Felony DUI – “A Short History of Colorado’s Felony DUI Bills and Laws
History of Colorado Felony DUI – Part 1 “Which Came First? The Felony or the DUI?
History of Colorado Felony DUI – Part 2 “The Rough Road to Freedom” (Laws and Independence, the 1700’s)
History of Colorado Felony DUI – Part 3 “Colorado, Felonies and The First DUI


A MADD Idea: Eliminating Drunk Driving

Eliminating Drunk Driving: MADD 2015 Report Examines State Progress – Colorado Shines with Exemplary DUI Laws that Reduce Drunk Driving


Felony DUI in the Press

KOA Radio Show – Is a Felony DUI a Good Idea? “Jay Tiftickjian Guest on Radio Show Topic: Colorado Felony DUI
Colorado Felony DUI Bill Debate – Jay Tiftickjian and Mark Waller Agree Is Treatment the Answer? Yes – both agree.