Yesterday, May 25, Governor Bill Ritter signed legislation that will change the way DUI and drug cases are handled in the Colorado legal system. The changes are meant to treat repeat DUI offenses more seriously and also increase the reliance on rehabilitation services for addicts consistently involved in the legal system.
After various stories were published in 2009 about repeat DUI offenders not being sentenced harshly enough, the necessity to reevaluate Colorado's DUI and drug laws became obvious. Although Colorado still does not have laws that would apply felony status to a DUI case, the laws have changed in the following ways:
- Second offense DUIs face a minimum 10-day jail sentence
- Third and subsequent DUI offenses face 60-day jail sentence
- In-home detention programs will no longer be offered to repeat offenders
- Required 2-year probation for repeat offenders
- Required alcohol education and treatment programs for repeat offenders
The changes to Colorado drug crime laws mandate that possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana be lowered to a petty offense. A petty offense is the violation of an administrative regulation, an ordinance, a municipal code, and, in some jurisdictions, a state or local traffic rule. In many states an infraction is not considered a criminal offense and thus not punishable by incarceration.
So while Colorado is strengthening their laws against drunk driving, the state is actually pulling back somewhat in their drug laws. Along with making marijuana possession a petty offense, the new legislation will reduce the required prison sentences for those caught with small amounts of other illegal drugs.
According to sources, the money that will be saved by putting less people in the correctional system will go toward drug treatment programs. Those who praise this shift in focus from punishment to treatment are overjoyed. They believe that Colorado has smartened up by realizing that repeat offenders are sick and can change their behaviors better in a treatment center, not a jail cell.
Laws get tougher, smarter on substance abusers