Sentencing Under Colorado’s Felony DUI Law Widely Varies

This article refers to an outdated bill; For more information on the Felony DUI bill which was signed by the governor on June 6th, 2017, and is in effect August 9th, 2017, please visit this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


Colorado’s felony DUI law took effect in August of 2015. Since then, data shows that judges have been handing down inconsistent sentencing for habitual drunk driving offenders that are charged under the law, according to The Denver Post. The law was passed to align Colorado’s drunk driving laws with that of 45 other states that already have felony drunk driving laws for habitual drunk driving offenders. In Colorado, the law allows for sentencing for a fourth or subsequent drunk driving infraction to include up to six years in prison. However, in an effort to appease those who believed the bill would be too costly for the state and do little to deter repeat drunk driving offenders, the bill was passed without mandatory prison sentencing, allowing for judicial discretion in sentencing. According to the data used in the article, one in 12 defendants in felony DUI proceedings receives no time in jail while others receive lengthy prison sentences.

Understanding the Data

The data used in the article, obtained from an open-records request to the state, was compiled by reviewing the cases of 316 felony DUI offenders who have been sentenced since the law first took effect. The Denver Post found that nearly 30% of the cases resulted in a prison sentence with about 45% resulting in a straight jail sentence. The difference between these two sentences can best be described as a likely difference in the amount of time defendants must serve if they are convicted. Typically, jails are used to house suspected criminals while they await trial and being sentenced to jail usually means a less lengthy sentence that will be served in facilities run by local law enforcement personnel or other local government entities. On the other hand, prisons tend to be run by state or federal officials and typically involve more extensive sentences, typically sentences in excess of a year. Approximately 22% of remaining cases resulted in time served in halfway houses, jail work-release programs, or straight probation. According to the article’s review of the data, three cases resulted in a defendant being sentenced to home detention, something allowed in very limited circumstances for a third DUI conviction in Colorado.

There also seem to be distinct differences in how felony DUI sentencing is handled in various jurisdictions. The article notes that Arapahoe, Adams, and Jefferson counties each had at least four felony DUI cases that resulted in sentencing that included only probation. However, Douglas County judge imposed significant time in jail for each of the four felony DUI cases they have heard. In Denver and Boulder counties, judges granted deferred judgment arrangements that allow guilty felony pleas to be dismissed after jail time is served, likely the result of plea bargaining.

Facing Felony DUI Charges in Colorado

The widespread differences in sentencing for felony DUIs across Colorado makes facing such sentencing an uncertain time. If you are facing felony DUI charges, or other charges related to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it is important that you contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss the circumstances of your case. As you can see, the potential consequences you could be facing can be extreme, and a criminal defense attorney that has experience working with these types of charges can help you understand the process and the possible consequences should you be convicted. Contact the Tiftickjian Law Firm today to schedule a consultation today. Finding the right lawyer to work with you when you face such charges is an essential first step in creating the most appropriate defense based on your circumstances.

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