Colorado at a Crossroads: Will It Pass a Felony DUI Bill Tomorrow?

There are, in general, two kinds of DUI offenders:

  • First-time offenders. Some of them have been caught in a rare lapse, and others – the majority, according to one study – have driven drunk many times but only been caught once.
  • Multiple offenders. Despite arrests and convictions, they drive drunk repeatedly.

Four DUIs could be a felony in ColoradoStates set limits on how severely first-time DUIs can be punished, but are usually harder on multiple offenders, following the logic that these drivers need more “convincing” to stop drinking and driving. DUI offenses usually start as misdemeanors, and move up to a felony after several repeats. Colorado is one of just a few states that does not have a felony DUI law.

This may change if a bill, HB15-1043, is passed. The resulting law would make a fourth DUI conviction a class-4 Felony.

In quite a few states a third or fourth DUI carries a felony charge, but Colorado has been reluctant to take this step. The principal reason appears to be the cost of the additional imprisonment that would be required. Yet drunk driving fatalities cost the state millions each year.

Arguing against an expanded law, the ACLU says that the measure would not be effective in reducing fatalities. The civil liberties organization would prefer to stress counseling and treatment, and to keep better tabs on bars that allow customers to drink and drive.

In response to a similar bill’s defeat last year, the current bill gives judges discretion on whether to send an offender to prison, and extends the amount of time an ignition interlock can be mandated. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Will Colorado join the 45 states that now have DUI felony laws  on the books? And if they do, will it make a difference on the roads?  The first of those questions will be answered tomorrow.