Colorado Passes Felony DUI Bill

Colorado has passed a bill which significantly increases the penalties for those who have prior drinking and driving convictions. On June 1, 2015, Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 15-1043 into law. This new law elevates a fourth conviction or greater for DUI, DUI Per Se, or DWAI over the course of a person’s lifetime to a class 4 felony offense. Addressed below are some frequently asked questions pertaining to the new law.

Q. When Does The New Law Go Into Effect?

Colorado Passes Felony DUI BillA. The new law goes into effect on August 5, 2015. Any violation committed on or after that date has the potential to be charged as a felony so long as the statutory requirements are met.

Q. What Makes a DUI, DUI Per Se, or DWAI a Felony Offense?

A. In order for a DUI, DUI Per Se, or DWAI offense to rise to the felony level, a person must have three prior convictions for DUI, DUI Per Se, DWAI, Vehicular Homicide while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both, and/or Vehicular Assault while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. The prior convictions can consist of any combination of the offenses listed above.

Q. Does it Matter When the Prior Convictions Happened?

A. No, the prior convictions can take place at any time in a person’s life so long as the judgment of conviction enters or, in some cases, the guilty plea is received prior to the date of the new offense. For example, if a person has been convicted of DWAI in 1978, 1984, 1997, and is arrested for DWAI after August 5, 2015 then that person would be exposed to a felony offense based upon the prior convictions.

Q. What is the Definition of a Conviction?

A. A conviction means a verdict of guilty by a judge or jury following a trial or a plea of guilty or nolo contendere (no contest) that is accepted by the court.

Q. Will a Juvenile Adjudication Count as a Conviction?

A. Yes. A juvenile adjudication which, if committed by an adult, would constitute one of the aforementioned offenses and will be considered a prior conviction for purposes of the new law.

Q. How Will the Law Treat Deferred Sentences and Deferred Adjudications?

A. Receiving a deferred judgment and sentence or deferred adjudication will qualify as a conviction pursuant to the new law. However, successfully completed deferred sentences or deferred adjudications will not be treated as prior convictions.

Q. Do the Prior Convictions Have to be from Colorado?

A. No. If the offense happens outside of Colorado it will be counted as a prior conviction if it would constitute a DUI, DUI Per Se, DWAI, Vehicular Homicide, and/or Vehicular Assault in Colorado. As the threshold for DWAI is very low, it is hard to imagine a situation in which an out of state conviction would not satisfy the Colorado requirements for a DWAI conviction.

Q. What are the Possible Penalties for a Felony DUI?

A. If convicted of a DUI, DUI Per Se, or DWAI as a class 4 felony, the presiding judge will sentence the person in accordance with Colorado Revised Statute 18-1.3-401. Pursuant to C.R.S. 18-1.3-401(a)(V)(A), a class 4 felony includes a presumptive range of penalties of 2-6 years imprisonment in the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC).

At sentencing, if the court finds that there are “extraordinary aggravating” circumstances then the court may stray from the presumptive range of penalties and may impose a sentence of up to 12 years imprisonment in DOC. Conversely, if the court finds that there are “extraordinary mitigating” circumstances then the court may deviate from the presumptive range of penalties and impose a sentence of a term as short as 1 year imprisonment in DOC.  Any sentence to DOC must be followed by a mandatory 3 year period of parole. During the entirety of parole, the individual must have an approved ignition interlock in any vehicle that he or she is driving. Additionally, the court may impose a fine between 2,000 and 500,000 dollars.

Q. Will I Have to Go to Prison if I am Convicted of a Felony DUI?

A. There is not a mandatory sentence to the department of corrections when a person is convicted of a felony DUI. Prior to sentencing a defendant to DOC, the court must take into consideration certain factors. First, the judge must determine that incarceration is the most suitable option given the facts and circumstances of the case. This includes the person’s willingness to participate in treatment. Second, the court must decide whether all other reasonable and appropriate sanctions available to the court have been exhausted or that such measures do not appear likely to be successful if tried. Finally, the court will consider whether the person presents an unacceptable risk to public safety.

Q.Where Can I Read More About the New Law?

 A. The bill in its entirety can be read here.

Q. What is My Next Step After Being Arrested for a Felony DUI?

A. If you find yourself facing a felony drinking and driving offense you need to act fast. With the potential penalties and loss of freedoms higher than they have ever been in Colorado, you need to protect your rights. An experienced Colorado Springs criminal defense firm such as The Bussey Law Firm, P.C. will not only understand the nuances in the law and the science that will be at issue in your case but will also fight to obtain a favorable result for you. Call our team today and get the facts on your case before it is too late. The number to dial is (719) 475-2555.