New Approach Proposed to Treatment in Fourth and Subsequent Felony DUIs

Colorado’s felony DUI law has been a point of contention since its inception in 2015. Supporters of the legislation have said it was long overdue, as Colorado was the 47th state to enact such legislation. They believe the law will help discourage driving under the influence as it imposes much harsher penalties on individuals receiving their fourth or subsequent lifetime DUI or related conviction.

Opponents of the law say it does little to address the root issues behind repeat DUI offenses, such as addiction and substance abuse. They also point to research that indicates the highest number of DUI-related fatalities are caused by first-time offenders. Additionally, they note that serious offenders that are involved in fatal collisions already face felony charges.

Basics of the Law

The felony DUI law applies to a fourth lifetime conviction for a separate and distinct instance of one of the following:

  • Driving under the influence;
  • Driving while ability impaired;
  • Vehicular homicide;
  • Vehicular assault; and/or
  • Any combination of the above.

Each of these on their own comes with serious and significant consequences, but the felony DUI law now imposes serious mandatory consequences on repeat offenders.

The law does not only take convictions in Colorado into consideration, but also includes prior convictions from any state in the country. Violation of the felony DUI law in the form of a fourth or subsequent conviction for one of these crimes qualifies as a Class IV felony. In Colorado, Class IV felony DUIs are punishable by a minimum of 90 days in jail even if a judge sentences an individual offender to probation.

Changes to the Law

Issues with the law have been addressed several times by lawmakers, most recently last year. The latest changes to the law close loopholes that provided broad discretion to judges in sentencing felony DUI offenders. This discretion often resulted in uneven and unpredictable sentencing. Recently, a new rule has also been promulgated by the Colorado Department of Human Services Office of Behavioral Health to coincide with language in the felony DUI law that requires all other options be exhausted prior to an individual being sentenced to prison, including treatment options. It is hoped that this rule will help to clarify some of the confusion surrounding the law and help judges avoid mandatory minimum sentencing that might otherwise include significant jail time in lieu of proven treatment methods.

Developed in cooperation with the Colorado Task Force on Drunk and Impaired Driving, it lays out specific requirements for treatment programs as options for sentencing. These programs can include residential facilities that meet important state-mandated criteria. These programs are part of what are considered to be approved alcohol and drug driving treatment programs to which repeat offenders may be sentenced. This rule also suggests changing language within the existing legislation to test offenders frequently and randomly at a rate of four times a month for the first six months and twice per month the following six months. The state may also be in the position to help subsidize treatment programs for individuals who cannot afford one on their own.

Legal Assistance with Felony DUIs

It is important to remember that while there is a felony DUI law in effect, it is not mandatory that offenders receive felony treatment for a fourth or subsequent DUI offense. An experienced criminal defense attorney who focuses on working with clients facing DUI charges – including felony DUI charges – can be an important part of navigating the challenges these charges can bring.

Many people facing felony DUIs have had a lifelong struggle with addiction, and treatment should be an option. Much of the criteria for determining how to approach the fourth or subsequent DUI-related offense is subjective, and an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you navigate the nuances of Colorado DUI law. If you are facing your fourth or subsequent DUI-related charge, or if you are a first-time offender, contact the criminal defense team at Tiftickjian Law Firm to schedule a consultation and find out what options might be available in preparing your defense.

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(image courtesy of Oscar Nilsson)