A Closer Look at Colorado’s Felony DUI Law

Last year, Colorado lawmakers tightened their grip on habitual drunk driving. A new law, which took effect in August 2017, requires anyone convicted of a felony DUI to spend time behind bars.

This new regulation follows the on the heels of a 2015 law that made a fourth DUI offense and any subsequent DUI offenses a felony. The most recent change was intended in part to close some loopholes associated with the 2015 law, but critics of the updated felony DUI law argue that mandatory incarceration for drunk drivers could disrupt rehabilitation for individuals with genuine drinking problems.

Stricter Punishment for Repeat DUI Offenders

Drunk driver being pulled over by police.
More than 10,000 drunk drivers were arrested in Colorado in 2017.

In 2017, more than 10,000 drunk drivers were arrested in Colorado, and more than 200 people died in alcohol-related crashes. How should drunk drivers be punished? This has been a heated topic in Colorado for several years.

In 2013, legislators imposed harsher penalties on certain types of DUIs, increasing misdemeanor charges for repeat offenders to a class 5 felony. A year later, legislators moved to increase the penalties again; this time, repeat offenders would be charged with a more severe class 4 felony.

Then, in 2015, Colorado legislators passed a law that increased sentencing penalties for habitual DUI offenders, regardless of whether an injury or death occurred. Critics of House Bill 15-1043 claimed loopholes existed: Some repeat offenders never saw jail time, and judicial discretion led to inconsistencies in penalties.

Finally, in 2017, the most recent felony DUI bill was signed into law, which added minimum sentencing for all felony DUI convictions. Convicted drivers now face 90 to 180 days in jail if the judge decides to offer probation; those eligible for a work release program will face 120 days to two years behind bars.

Colorado’s Drunk Driving Laws

Cup cognac whiskey or brandy hand man the keys to the car and irresponsible driver.
Colorado’s “express consent” law means drivers suspected of DUI or DWAI must submit to a breath or blood test.

Colorado breaks alcohol- and drug-related driving charges into two categories: driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while ability impaired (DWAI). The particular charge is determined largely by the driver’s blood-alcohol concentration (BAC):

  • The legal BAC limit for drivers 21-years-old and older is 0.08 percent
  • The legal BAC limit for drivers younger than 21 is 0.02 percent
  • The legal BAC threshold for a DWAI is 0.05 percent
  • Commercial drivers are subject to a nationwide BAC limit of 0.04 percent

Generally speaking, the human body can metabolize about one alcoholic drink per hour. One drink is equal to 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, one 12-ounce beer, or one 5-ounce glass of wine.

Women tend to reach a higher BAC level faster than men. Body weight, how quickly the drinks are consumed, and whether food has been eaten also affect BAC and a driver’s ability to legally operate a vehicle.

Colorado maintains a so-called “express consent” law when it comes to suspected DUI or DWAI. This requires drivers to submit to a chemical test (breath or blood) if law enforcement has probable cause to suspect the motorist is driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

If a driver refuses the test, evidence of the driver’s refusal is admissible in court and can be used to prove guilt. Other penalties such as an ignition interlock device may apply.

The Effects of Felony DUI Charges

A felony DUI conviction places significant strains on the offender. Housing, employment, and community support can be difficult to secure.

DUI Law title on a book and gavel.
The best way to avoid a DUI is to avoid drinking and driving. But if you’re charged with DUI, it’s in your best interests to consult with a criminal defense lawyer.

Some occupations have a lower tolerance for DUI charges, including jobs that involve children, professions in the medical field, and positions that involve driving. While it’s possible to remain employed or seek new employment following a DUI conviction, doing so will be accompanied by challenges.

For example, license suspension or restriction could limit a person’s ability to work; mandatory counseling or community service could impact a person’s work schedule; and mandatory incarceration could have personal ramifications that reach well beyond employment.

Colorado is an “employment-at-will” state, which means employers can release an employee from his or her position without notice and/or reason. There are some exceptions to this rule (discrimination, breach of contract, etc.); however, a felony DUI conviction offers little defense for most employees.

There are also financial implications. The monetary costs of coping with DUI charges often run upward of $10,000.

The best way to avoid a DUI, of course, is to avoid drinking and driving. But if you’re facing DUI charges, it’s in your best interests to work with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer.

The Denver DUI attorneys at Wolf Law have extensive experience in DUI and DWAI cases. To learn how we can help you, please call us at 720-479-8574 for your free consultation or contact us online to tell us your story now.

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