This spring Colorado enacted a felony DUI law. The law makes a 4th DUI or DWAI a class 4 felony punishable by up to 6 years prison and/or a $500,000 fine. Colorado was in the minority before passing the law. DUI’s and DWAI’s, regardless of how many prior convictions a driver had, were misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail.
The felony DUI law went into effect today. The law is not retroactive, meaning if you have 3 prior alcohol or drug related driving offenses on your record and you were charged with a 4th before today, you will not be charged with a felony for the 4th alleged DUI. Moving forward it will be interesting to see how prosecutors and judges handle felony DUI cases. While a felony DUI is punishable by up to 6 years in prison, there is no mandatory prison or jail time, so a judge could sentence a person to probation only. This sentence would be more lenient than a sentence for a misdemeanor DUI. Misdemeanors are handled in county court while felonies are handled in district court. If a person is convicted of a 3rd DUI, there is a minimum mandatory 60 days of county jail. More often than not, judges will sentence people to between 6 months and a year on a 3rd in county court.
Judges and prosecutors will establish how they choose to sentence people and plea bargain felony DUI cases. Defense attorneys will make note of these practices to provide their clients with as much information as possible to assist in the decision making process. Good defense attorneys not only explain plea bargains to their clients, but also try to give an educated opinion about whether the offer is a good or bad deal. Part of making this determination is not only analyzing how defensible a case is, but also what a judge might do if no plea bargain is reached. When no plea bargain is reached, any sentence following a conviction is left up to the judge, so it is important to know a judge’s sentencing practices.