Colorado Felony DUI

In August of 2015, Colorado's felony DUI law went into effect. Colorado joined 45 other states in the United States in passing 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. It didn't matter if it was the offender's 3rd or 17th offense. The only situations in which defendants were exposed to a felony was if their impaired driving was the proximate cause of serious bodily injury or death, which leads to charges like Vehicular Assault and Vehicular Homicide. Things changed dramatically with the passage of Colorado's Felony DUI law.

How Can Someone Be Charged?

Under the 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 doesn't matter when the prior offenses occurred. The courts will look at the total convictions a person has in his lifetime. For example, this means that if you had a very bad stretch 40 years ago and were convicted of 3 DUI or DWAIs (or the equivalent in any other state), 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. If the charges were reduced to a non-alcohol related offense, or dismissed or expunged, the priors will not count against the offender.

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 Colorado DUI statutes make no distinction for an alcohol DUI versus a drug DUI in any circumstance- they are punished in the same manner.

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 can 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. DUI's that occur in other countries are exempt. Prosecutors generally run a person's nationwide criminal history to ensure that all previous convictions are accounted for.



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 a 2-6 year term in the Department of Corrections (DOC) in addition to a felony conviction on his permanent record. However, this crime does not carry a mandatory prison sentence to the DOC. An offender may still receive probation in lieu of a DOC sentence, but that doesn't mean the offender won't do jail time. The felony DUI law was just amended in July of 2017 to require 90-180 days in county jail as a condition of probation. Work release sentences are also available as a sentencing option, which allow for an offender to reside in the county jail while being able to leave the detention facility to work at his/her job and attend substance abuse treatment, however such a sentence has a minimum of 120 days and can last up to two years. House arrest or electronic home monitoring are not allowed for a felony DUI in lieu of jail.

Is Treatment an Option?

Colorado's felony DUI statute explicitly discusses treatment options. 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 the offender. By statute, an alcohol/substance abuse assessment is always conducted prior to sentencing by the probation department to provide the judge with more information about the treatment needs of the defendant, and what, if any treatment the offender has undergone previously. 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. An offender will not be able to consume alcohol during probation, and will be subject to monitored sobriety.

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 may not have been completed following the rules and regulations of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. There may be constitutional violations which require suppression of the evidence leading to the charges. There could be underlying issues regarding the validity of the previous convictions the DA is relying upon to charge the felony DUI. In any case, 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.