Under a proposed law that has now passed both houses of the Colorado General Assembly, repeated instances of drunken driving will become a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine as high as $500,000.
In mid-April, the Colorado House of Representatives gave a unanimous nod to HB 15-1043, which classifies a fourth conviction for driving under the influence as a Class 4 felony. In May, the state Senate also passed the bill, sending it to the desk of Gov. John Hickenlooper. He is expected to sign the bill, having indicated in early 2015 that passage of the controversial law would be a significant goal for the year.
Earlier versions of the bill made a third DUI a felony in the presence of certain aggravating factors or if the third DUI occurred within seven years. However, the bill has undergone numerous revisions to attempt to assuage opponents.
Previous DUI law in Colorado
Colorado has been one of five states in which drunken drivers are charged only with misdemeanors, even if they have numerous convictions. In previous years, Republican lawmakers attempted to pass a law imposing stiffer penalties on repeat DUI offenders, but their efforts failed due to concerns about increased costs to both prisons and the courts.
In January, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced HB 15-1043.
Impact of the new law
If HB 15-1043 becomes law, it’s expected to generate an influx of inmates to the state prison system: Some 1,500 to 2,000 individuals annually are expected to spend between two and six years in prison. Such an increase in the prison population would significantly raise costs to taxpayers, opponents argue. Recent legislative reports estimate a cost of nearly $28 million over the next five years to the Colorado Department of Corrections.
Will the law deter drunken driving?
Opponents have also argued the new law may not deter drunken driving because it doesn’t provide treatment for alcohol addiction. Without proper treatment, opponents say, individuals suffering from alcoholism likely will continue driving despite the potential for tougher punishment.
Understanding HB 15-1043 is key
If you’re convicted of DUI under the new law, your life could be severely impacted — and you could spend significant time incarcerated. To fully understand the impact the new law may have on you or if you have been charged with DUI in Colorado, contact the experienced attorneys at Odle Law, LLC.