Tiftickjian Law Firm, P.C. Articles Colorado Felony DUI Bill Struggles to Work

Colorado Felony DUI Bill Struggles to Work

Jun. 28, 2017 10:17a

The passing of Colorado’s felony DUI bill in August 2015, which charges anyone arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol with three previous DUI convictions on their record with a felony, received flack and criticism. Previously, Colorado had been one of a handful of states without a felony DUI bill, charging any DUI conviction regardless of record history as a misdemeanor.

In a statement, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke claimed that Colorado’s felony DUI law was a change for good: "Colorado's felony DUI law has absolutely been successful in our eyes. There wasn't enough accountability. This law gives us another tool to go after those who simply refuse to stop drinking and driving. Repeat DUI offenders pose an enormous risk to public safety, but now their poor decisions are leading to appropriate prison sentences."

According toColorado’s department of transportation, more than 26,000 DUI arrests are made annually in Colorado, and more than 150 people are killed in alcohol-related traffic crashes, which makes up more than a third of all traffic deaths in Colorado. For an easy, comprehensive understanding of the consequences of drunk and dangerous driving, read here.

Despite the potential benefits of the felony DUI bill, police officers who must enforce the law may disagree; according toThe Coloradoan, Colorado law enforcement lack the tools or a proper system to correctly investigate and charge someone with a felony, and are instead forced to rely on often incomplete criminal records to make their decisions. For example, the California DUI convictions of a California driver stopped for a DUI in Colorado may not appear in a Colorado police officer’s criminal background check.

“It’s a mess right now. That’s the best way I can describe it as far as trying to figure out criminal histories,” said Fort Collins Police Officer Shane Hasebroock, whose specialization is in DUI detection, of the process last year. “It’s a long process. Each state does it differently. It’s going to take some time.”

According to Sgt. Sara Lynd of Fort Collins Police, officers need a complete record of a suspect’s criminal history, including all their convictions, arrests, and court actions, in order to investigate whether a felony charge is needed. But the lack of a comprehensive, unified criminal history form across all states makes this difficult. They vary by state, and some are better at conveying information in a recognizable and easy-to-understand manner than others, Lynd said.

The lack of a better, more streamlined process has made those eligible for a felony mistakenly charged with a misdemeanor: a problem when dropping a DUI charge from a felony to a misdemeanor is easier than changing a misdemeanor to a felony.

A Denver Post review discovered that sentencing of habitual drunken drivers was inconsistent across the board, with defendants receiving a wide range of types of sentences. In an analysis of 316 sentences made in the felony DUI bill’s first year, it was found that about one in 12 defendants received no incarceration time, while almost 30 percent of cases resulted in a prison sentence, 48 percent included jail time, and nearly 22 percent resulted in time served in halfway houses, jail work-release programs or on probation.

Jay Tiftickjian, a Colorado criminal attorney, criticized the felony DUI bill. He testified against it in front of Colorado legislature, arguing that rehabilitative efforts, not prison time, would solve the root of the problem by helping those with drinking problems.

In an interview with the Coloradoan, he said: “I don’t think the amount of felony DUIs is going to go down at all until we come up with a better way to work on the rehabilitation part of the sentence and not just be concerned with the punishment portion of the sentence.”

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