Colorado Felony DUI
In August of 2015 the Colorado's felony DUI law went into effect. Colorado joined 45 other states in the United States in enacting a law which makes certain classes of DUI's a felony offense. Prior to the passage of this law, any DUI in the state was a misdemeanor traffic offense, punishable by up to 1 year in the county jail. The only situation in which a defendant was exposed to a felony was if their impaired driving was the proximate cause of serious bodily injury or death. Things changed dramatically with the passage of Colorado's Felony DUI law.
How Can Someone Be Charged?
Under the new law, if you have 3 prior alcohol or drug related driving offenses in this state or any other, you can be charged with Felony DUI. For the purposes of this charge, it is irrelevant when the prior offenses occurred. For example, this means that if you had a very bad stretch 40 years ago and were convicted of 3 DUI or DWAIs, you are at risk of a Felony DUI upon any future alcohol related driving charge despite the fact that you have had no offenses for the intervening 40 years.
This charge also does not distinguish driving related alcohol charges from driving related drug charges, or DUIDs. If you have been previously convicted of 3 or more drug related driving charges, or a combination of drug and alcohol related driving charges, you are still exposed to the charge of Felony DUI.
The location of prior offenses is also irrelevant, so long as they occurred in the United States, or a US territory. Out of state offenses are treated the same as offenses received within the state of Colorado and you will be charged with a felony DUI in these circumstances. Even though other states may have differing names or statutes defining an alcohol related driving offense, the Colorado felony DUI law simply looks at whether the prior offense in the other state is the equivalent of an alcohol related driving offense here in Colorado.
Felony DUI Penalties
Prior to passage of this law, the maximum exposure was 1 year in the county jail. Now, anyone charged with a Felony DUI is exposed to 2-6 year in the Department of Correction in addition to a felony conviction on their permanent record. Although a sentence to prison is likely, this crime does not carry a mandatory prison sentence. This means that a judge has the ability to sentence someone to probation, county jail, or prison. Probation can be imposed in addition to a county jail sentence, and can include all of the terms of probation associated with misdemeanor DUIs including community service, drug and alcohol testing, and of course drug and alcohol counseling. While the law is relatively new, prosecutors across the state are seeking harsh penalties for those convicted under the felony DUI statute.
Is Treatment an Option?
Colorado's felony DUI statute explicitly discusses treatment. It directs judges in the state to consider whether the defendant is willing to participate in treatment, and whether treatment is likely to be successful if tried. This consideration must occur prior to a judge sentencing someone to incarceration in prison or county jail. However, the law also requires judges to consider whether the defendant is an unacceptable risk to public safety. If the judge finds that there is an unacceptable risk here, then a sentence to prison is likely upon a conviction. Addiction is often a factor in these cases, and a defendant's willingness to complete treatment may assist toward a lesser sentence in these cases.
Can You Fight These Charges?
While every case is unique, felony DUI charges are defensible. There are a myriad of issues that can cast doubt on DUI investigations. These cases can often involve police officers who are not well trained in DUI investigation. They may involve blood or breath testing which can be attacked from a scientific basis. There may be constitutional violations which require suppression of the evidence leading to the charges. In any scenario, the stakes are high and if you or a loved one have been charged with felony DUI you should consult an experienced Colorado DUI attorney.