Colorado Considers Making DUI a Felony

Colorado is among five states where repeat drunk driving offenders face only misdemeanor charges. This may soon change. On February 5, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill increasing penalties against repeat drunk drivers. House Bill 15-1043 would make a third DUI within seven years punishable as a felony if other aggravating factors were involved, such as causing major injuries or having a child in the car. A fourth DUI would be a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of as much as $500,000.

Those who testified at the Committee hearing expressed frustration with the relatively light sentencing currently imposed upon repeat offenders. Ellie Phipps sustained serious injuries when she was a struck by a drunk driver near Grand Junction. Though it was the driver’s seventh drinking and driving incident, “he spent only three months in jail,” according to Phipps.

As the law currently stands, without accompanying charges like vehicular assault or homicide, DUI sentences carry a maximum of one year in jail. When these other factors are involved, the penalties can be more severe.

In a case out of Boulder in 2011, Colorado prosecutors pursued a first-degree murder charge against a woman who caused a wreck that killed a 33-year-old Boulder man and seriously injured his sister and 2-year-old daughter. The woman, Lisa Norton, was on probation for another alcohol-related conviction. Ms. Norton was sentenced to 33 years in prison.

The bill was introduced in the house on January 7 and assigned to the House Judiciary and House Finance Committees. Having passed the House Judiciary Committee, the fate of the bill now lies in the hands of Finance.

A similar version of the bill failed to pass last year due to concerns over increased costs of incarceration. These concerns are still very much alive today. State Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, voted for the bill but voiced concerns over the potential cost. Certainly, there will be much scrutiny concerning the cost of the bill before it lands on Governor Hickenlooper’s desk for final approval.

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