Colorado’s felony DUI law went into effect last year. The law made a DUI a class four felony if the person had three prior alcohol related driving convictions (either DUI or DWAI). The priors can be from Colorado or from out of state so long as the out of state conviction is for an offense that is similar to what Colorado defines as an alcohol related driving offense.
When the law first hit the books, it was difficult for prosecutors and defense attorneys to predict how a judge might sentence a person convicted under the felony DUI law. Not much has changed as judges are not sentencing in a consistent manner. The law gives judges wide discretion in deciding how to sentence in these cases. There is no mandatory jail or prison time and the law requires that, in order to sentence a person to prison, the judge must determine that other types of treatment have been exhausted.
According to an article run by the Denver Post over the Labor Day weekend, of 316 felony DUI offenders, 25 cases resulted in probation with no incarceration time. 30% of the cases resulted in a prison sentence and 48% included a straight jail sentence. 22% were sentenced to half-way houses or jail work release programs. While prosecutors are critical of this variation in sentencing, the law gives judges permission to make sentencing decisions on a case by case basis. Individual circumstances should and do have an impact on the punishment to be imposed.
For example, should it matter if a person is charged with a 4th DUI in a lifetime, but his prior 3 offenses are from 30 years ago? Should it matter if a person is charged with a 4th DUI and she picked up her 3 priors very close together, meaning she has never had the benefit of full treatment? Should it matter if a person voluntarily admits himself to an inpatient treatment program and then voluntarily participates in intensive outpatient treatment and lives in a sober living environment?
Being charged with a felony DUI is serious – it is a felony and, while judges have discretion to impose more lenient sentences, they also have the authority to send a person to prison for up to six years. Based on the statistics, it is not uncommon for prison to be handed out in these cases. If you are charged with a felony DUI, it is important to have legal representation who can help you provide convincing information to the judge if and when it comes time for sentencing.