Mandatory Minimums Considered for Repeat DUI Offenders

This article refers to an outdated bill; For more information on the Felony DUI bill which was signed by the governor on June 6th, 2017, and is in effect August 9th, 2017, please visit this page.

A 2015 law made a fourth or subsequent Colorado DUI a felony offense. As a result, a person who is convicted of a fourth or subsequent lifetime DUI offense, regardless of where the first three were received, is eligible for punishment under felony sentencing guidelines. Typically, a DUI is classified as a misdemeanor offense unless there is severe injury or a fatality that results. Since the law took effect, both supporters and detractors have watched closely to gain a better understanding of the law’s impact. A recent article in the Vail Daily about a seven-time DUI offender’s sentence may have reignited the debate.

The Incident

The female driver had been traveling along a highway in Leadville when her car went off the road, causing damage to a church fence as well as the side of a mobile home. She had a blood alcohol concentration that was more than two times the legal limit and had been taking Adderall, a drug commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that can sometimes be misused. This resulted in the woman’s seventh DUI in nine years. Prosecutors requested a seven-year prison sentence, and the defendant was ultimately sentenced to 60 days in jail with the ability to leave for work as well as treatment in a program administered through the Eagle County Drug Court.

Lawmaker Response

Initially, lawmakers had sought to appease opponents of the legislation who believed it was too punitive in nature by eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentences so that sentencing in most circumstances was left to the judge’s discretion. This allowed judges to consider the individual circumstances of a repeat DUI offender charge when making sentencing decisions. This also allowed individuals to seek treatment options that might not be available to them were they to be sentenced to a mandatory prison term.

However, many lawmakers and prosecutors across Colorado are asking for mandatory minimums to become part of the law. They believe the law does little to discourage repeat offenders who know that there is a chance they could be sentenced only to probation. The article points out that some felony DUI offenders actually receive lighter sentences than those facing their third misdemeanor offense that has a mandatory sentence of 60 days in jail. Supporters of a stricter version of the law believe that repeat offenders are proof that rehabilitative efforts have been tried at some point and failed. They believe the risk of a stricter felony DUI law being too punitive is outweighed by the reduction in risk they believe mandatory minimum sentencing could provide.

According to a 2016 Denver Post analysis referenced in the article, approximately 25% of the felony DUI cases in Colorado since the law’s passage have resulted in probation or community service with no jail time imposed. Under the law, jail time would be served in a state correctional facility and not a local jail. Lawmakers who had a hand in the passage of the law believe that it is working and will continue to do so.

Legal Assistance with DUI

If you have been charged with a DUI, and especially if it is a repeat offense, the legal system can be intimidating. Working with an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney who focuses their practice on defending individuals facing similar charges can help you navigate the process more smoothly. If you are facing DUI or other alcohol-related charges, contact the Tiftickjian Law Firm to schedule a consultation where you can find out more information about the charges you are facing as well as what options might be available to you in your defense.

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(image courtesy of Rhododendrites)