Okay, we all make mistakes and picking up a DUI or DWAI is a very common mistake that many people make. Though recent years have seen more significant penalties for first time offenders, thankfully a first time offense is still a misdemeanor. Unfortunately, the same may no longer hold true for multiple offenders. A new house bill proposes felony charges in Colorado for people picking up multiple DUI and DWAI offenses. 

HB 14-1036 drafted by State Rep. Mark Waller, a republican from Colorado Springs, states exactly that. Current Colorado law provides that any DUI or DWAI conviction- no matter how many a person may receive in their lifetime - is a misdemeanor offense with a maximum sentence of 1 year in the county jail. Under this new house bill currently making its way through the Colorado legislature, a person who receives 3 DUI or DWAI convictions within 7 years OR receives 4 DUI or DWAI convictions in a lifetime will face felony charges.

Mr. Walker’s bill does not state just any old felony for multiple DUI convictions - his bill proposes charging these individuals with a class 4 felony. A class 4 felony conviction carries a possible penalty of 2 - 6 years in the department of corrections and 2 years of mandatory parole. This is not just some time spent in the county jail. We are talking serious time spent in a Colorado prison likely located quite far from where you and your family live. 

Promoting Treatment and Keeping Us Safe

The intention of this bill according to Walker “isn’t throwing the book at first-time offenders but deterring drunk driving by incentivizing habitual offenders to get treatment.” “They can have the felony stripped from their record, and it gives them incentive to be successful on probation,” Waller said. “At the end of the day, this is not about sending people to prison. This is about making the roads safer.” http://kdvr.com/2014/04/10/house-approves-funding-for-gives-initial-ok-to-felony-dui-bill/ 

I personally have seen nothing that indicates that raising penalties or the level offense to a felony will lower accidents caused by DUI drivers. In fact the laws have recently changed to require jail time on second and third offenses. We should try clearly publicizing this aspect of multiple DUI offenses to see if it deters “drunk driving” and incentivizes people to get treatment. 

Though I am not undermining the serious issue that people with multiple DUI’s can potentially have on the safety of our roads, I am concerned about this proposed bill for several reasons: 

The BAC Limit is Already Extremely Low

First of all, the limit for receiving a DWAI is extremely low - a person need only have a BAC level of 0.05 to receive a DWAI conviction. This can in many circumstances amount to less than a glass of wine several hours before driving. I truly feel that this level of “impairment” has NO effect on a person’s ability to safely drive a car. As a mom of 3 young children I have seen and felt the effects of sleeplessness and driving and that level of “impairment” is far greater than driving after drinking less than a glass of wine. 

A Lifetime is a Long Time

And secondly, I take issue with the 4 convictions in a lifetime adding up to a felony. Again, what I stated above plays into the problem that I have with this aspect of the bill - as well as the idea that a person who receives a DUI or DWAI once a decade can now face felony charges. So if you receive a DUI or DWAI in your 20s, 30’s and 40’s and then you are driving home from an early dinner when you are in your 70’s and you chose to have a glass of wine and get pulled over - you are now facing a felony conviction. As an attorney, this does not sit well with me. 

Conclusion

So what is the answer? I’m not sure and I certainly am not one to advocate for harsher penalties in our legal system to begin with. Again, I personally believe that more of an effort should be made to publicize the mandatory jail time requirement for people receiving more than one DUI or DWAI. However, if Colorado is looking to make multiple DUI and DWAI convictions a felony I think more safeguards must be written into the bill such as applying the felony only to people with more aggravated BAC levels (over a 0.10) and never with BAC levels in the DWAI range. I also propose lowering the felony charge associated with multiple DUI’s to a class 6. 

What do you think about this bill? Leave a comment

 

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