September 19, 2023
House Bill 1043 (also known as the Felony DUI Bill) was signed into law by Governor John Hickenlooper on June 1. The new legislation gives prosecutors the option of charging DUI suspects with a Class 4 felony if they are facing their fourth DUI offense. Class 4 felonies are punishable by 2 to 6 years in prison and a fine from $2,000 to $600,000 dollars. Up until the Felony DUI bill passed, Colorado was one of a limited number of states that only charged repeat offenders with misdemeanors.
The new law is the product of a few years of effort by citizens and legislators to impose tougher penalties on repeat offenders. Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, introduced this edition of the Felony DUI bill in January. This was Lori Saine’s second time carrying a felony DUI bill. The initial attempt to pass a felony DUI law failed, possibly due to concerns of high costs for Colorado and taxpayers. Initial estimates were as high as $67 million to $87 million, according to Saine. This time around, however, estimators predicted a dramatically reduced cost of $1.4 million, and the bill passed 64-1 in the House and 34-1 in the Senate.
The goal of the legislation, according to a statement from Saine to the Greeley Tribune, is “to bring peace of mind to Colorado families by getting these habitual drunk drivers off of our streets.” Saine noted that this time around, lawmakers were likely also swayed by the testimonies of repeat offenders. These offenders stated their incarceration was a turning point in addressing their alcoholism and addiction. “There is a sense in a certain segment of the population that the current DUI scheme isn’t working for them,” Saine said. “For a lot of people, jail was the most significant treatment they received.”
While the new law does allow some wiggle room for prosecutors to exercise discretion, it requires prosecuting attorneys to push for felony conviction whenever it’s appropriate. This means, according to DA Michael Rourke, “if you have a provable case, and it’s a person’s fourth DUI, I think prosecutors are incumbent to file that charge as a felony. As we read or see far too often, these chronic offenders destroy lives and families despite being afforded numerous opportunities to avoid significant confinement.”
Before the bill was passed, Colorado DUI offenders faced no additional penalties for multiple DUIs, Saine said. In the future, Colorado may see even higher penalties for repeat drunk drivers. Local law enforcement and victims of drunk drivers have publicly stated they believe the law is not harsh enough. In an interview with the Denver Post, Ellie Phillips, one of the bill’s strongest citizen supporters—and a victim in a crash by a 7-time DUI offender— said, “I think it’s a great start for Colorado, but I don’t think we are done. I think that we need to toughen it.
What This Means if You Are Charged
With all of the extra attention that this new law is bringing to DUIs in our state, you can be sure that law enforcement officers will be even more vigilant when they are out patrolling the streets. While everyone wants our roads to be as safe as possible, it is also vital that we protect individual rights and make sure that police officers are following the letter of the law when they pull people over.
Whether you are facing a first DUI charge or you have been arrested for drunk driving in the past, if you have been charged with a DUI, you could face harsh, life-changing penalties – but they can be beaten. To ensure the best possible outcome for your case, it is crucial you contact an experienced Colorado DUI attorney.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.