In August 2015, Colorado enacted a new law making a person’s fourth DUI conviction a felony. A fourth DUI conviction could have consequences of up to six years’ incarceration and up to a $500,000 fine. Proponents of the bill sought to increase penalties on repeat offenders and to bring Colorado’s drunk driving laws in line with other states with felony DUI laws. It has been over a year – has the felony DUI law actually increased the number of DUI offenders who go to jail?
The Denver Post sought to answer this question, so they reviewed the cases of 316 felony DUI offenses that occurred over the course of the last year. As it turns out, nearly two-thirds of felony DUI offenders are able to avoid prison time. The punishments given to felony DUI offenders ranged from straight jail sentences to jail work-release programs and, in a few cases, simple probation and even just house arrest.
Why Isn’t There Mandatory Jail Time for Felony DUI Offenders?
Mandatory prison time was considered when the bill was proposed back in August 2015. In the spirit of compromise, however, supporters of the bill gave up mandatory prison sentences to quell objections that a felony DUI law would be too expensive to implement, as well as too harsh of a punishment.
As defense attorneys, we disagree with the entire concept of mandatory minimum sentencing. The whole point of having a judge and jury—a right of a criminal defendant—is to look at the facts of each case and make determinations of guilt and then sentence the person accordingly. When legislatures pass mandatory minimum sentencing, they are taking this right away from criminal defendants and the obligations of the judge and jury to make factual determinations based on the unique circumstances of each case. This might include mitigating factors mandatory minimum sentencing does not take into account. Bottom line: Who should determine criminal sentences? A legislature passing sweeping laws before a crime is even committed without knowing anything about the individual cases, or a judge and jury that has heard all the facts and evidence from the specific incident at hand and who heard arguments from both sides? The individual circumstances of each case are important – like this one we handled not long ago.
Expect to see this issue arise as we come closer to the next legislative session, where supporters of mandatory minimums will likely push to amend the law further.
Our Denver DUI attorneys serve clients charged with felony DUI throughout Colorado.