Felony DUI Bill Gains Momentum; Passage a Near Certainty

The Colorado House of Representatives gave approval, on April 10, to legislation that would require prison time for DUI offenders who sustain three such convictions in a seven-year period or four in their lifetime. The law will create a class 4 felony for the crime, which carries a prison term of two to six years. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee, in a 13-0 vote, approved $2.9 million from the general funds of the 2015 budget to pay for the increased punishment.

Colorado is one of only five states that does not have such a repeat offender felony law.

The bill was moved forward with an amendment which states that, “notwithstanding” other provisions:

“…before the imposition of any sentence to the Department of Corrections for a Colorado felony DUI, DUI Per Se, or DWAI offense, at sentencing or at resentencing after a revocation of probation or a community corrections sentence, the court shall exhaust all reasonable and appropriate alternative sentences for the offense, considering [certain factors, which include] the facts and circumstances of the case, including defendant’s willingness to participate in treatment and defendant’s opportunity to have participated in a DUI court. Additionally, the court must determine that all other reasonable and appropriate sanctions and responses to the violation that are available to the court have been tried and have failed, do not appear likely to be successful if tried, or present an unacceptable risk to public safety.”

The amendment also requires the supervising agency supply the court with an “evidence-based” risk assessment and any other information that is relevant to public safety.

The current text of the bill can be found here.

The clear gist of the amendment is that incarceration in the state prison system is intended to be a measure of last resort, even in the case of three and four time repeat offenders. How this is actually implemented by sentencing courts remains to be seen, however, given the ultimate discretionary nature of any such decision.

The bill now advances to the Colorado Senate, where it is highly likely to prevail in view of the amended language.

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