Proposed Law to Toughen Penalties for Repeat DUI Offenders In Colorado

A proposed law that would increase the penalties for Colorado drivers receiving their second or greater DUI conviction has passed the state House and Senate. Some of the most important provisions under HB 1347 that Colorado residents need to be aware of include:

Mandatory minimum sentences

First time DUI offenders would be required to spend at least five days in jail while second time offenders would be required to spend a minimum of 10 days in jail and third time or greater offenders would be required to spend at least 60 days in jail. In all cases, the judge will have the discretion to sentence the DUI offender up to a maximum of one year imprisonment.

DUI offenders would not be eligible for earned time, good time or trusty prisoner status while serving their mandatory minimum sentences.

Additionally, if the offender receives their second DUI conviction within five years of the first one, then he or she will not be eligible for an alternative sentence, such as home detention or day reporting.

The only time DUI offenders will be eligible for release from their mandatory jail sentences is for work-release, education or alcohol and drug treatment programs.

Mandatory probation

HB 1347 also requires judges to sentence second and subsequent DUI offenders to a mandatory two-year term of probation. During the probation period, the offender is required to successfully complete a Level II Alcohol and Drug Driving Safety Education or Treatment program.

The judge also may require the offender to complete any of the following as a condition of his or her probation:

  • Alcohol and drug treatment during term of imprisonment
  • Use of an ignition interlock device
  • Use of a continuous alcohol monitoring device
  • Periodic court appearances

Additionally, the judge has the option of requiring repeat DUI offenders to complete up to an extra two years of probation in order to monitor and ensure they receive court-ordered alcohol and substance abuse treatment.

Lastly, if a DUI offender violates a condition of his or her probation, then the judge can sentence the offender to a separate jail term for the violation. While serving out the sentence for the probation violation, the offender's original sentence for the DUI offense would be suspended. The two jail terms could not be served concurrently, but would be treated as two separate sentences.

Ignition interlock devices

In addition to ordering the use of ignition interlock devices (IID) as a term of probation, the new law also would give judges the discretion to order DUI offenders to use them as a condition of bond and participation in a work, educational or medical release program.

Fine Increases

The proposed law also would increase the minimum fine amount that could be assessed against those convicted of a drunk driving offense in Colorado to $600, regardless of whether it was a first, second or greater conviction. Under current law, the minimum fine amount against first and second time offenders is $300 and $500, respectively.

Law Meant to Create Uniformity in Colorado DUI Sentencing

The lack of uniformity in DUI sentencing was part of the impetus for changing the state's current DUI penalties. Last year, the Denver Post ran a series of reports showing a great discrepancy in sentencing of repeat offenders across the state, with an offender's ultimate sentence depending largely on which county he or she was caught in and which judge imposed the sentence. The reports found that some judges always imposed a jail sentence while others were less likely to require even those receiving a second or greater DUI conviction to spend any time in jail.

HB 1347's sponsor, Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder), also believes that the law will help stop people from becoming repeat offenders by punishing not only their bad acts, but also by requiring them to get help for any underlying alcohol and drug addiction problems they may have.

Critics of the bill, however, worry that it will punish Colorado residents not just for drunk driving, but also for having an alcohol problem. One defense attorney voiced concerns that a person could end up spending as much as two years in jail for a probation violation of a misdemeanor DUI offense simply by failing an alcohol test - and not because the offender drove drunk.

Others have valid concerns about the cost of implementing these changes to Colorado's DUI laws, particularly the increased costs associated with mandatory minimum sentences. Current budget estimates put the final price tag on the bill around $20 million - a price that may be too steep in the current economy with the state already facing serious budget shortfalls.

In fact, budgetary concerns killed a previous attempt earlier this year to change the law to charge a third DUI conviction as a six-degree felony rather than a misdemeanor. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cory Gardener (R-Yuma), eventually was defeated by the House Judiciary Committee due to its $22 million price tag.

Conclusion

HB 1347 appears to be well on its way to becoming Colorado law, having passed both the House and Senate. For more information on how this law may affect you, contact an experienced DUI defense lawyer today.