share on:

The discussion about impaired driving in Colorado has recently focused on the issue of drugged driving with the passage of Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana in the state of Colorado in 2012. Since passage of the law, criminal justice stakeholders, the state law enforcement community, highway safety community, and the medical marijuana industry have been at odds with the interpretation and implementation of the law. The 2013 legislative session is no different, and once again marijuana per se laws are taking center stage, with the introduction of HB12-1114, which re-introduces the marijuana per se issue.

But amidst the focus on the impact of legalized marijuana on the state’s impaired driving laws are two other bills taking aim at convicted drunk drivers. To many, the most pivotal was introduced last week by House Minority Leader Mark Waller (R). HB13-1214 would create a felony level offense category for DUI, DUI per se, or DWAI charges.

Colorado is one of only five states left without a felony DUI statute on the books

Today, convicted drunk drivers in Colorado can have three, four, seven, or even ten DUI convictions that are not categorized as felony offenses. HB13-1214 creates the felony level classification, along with a mandatory prison sentence for repeat offenders. Other caveats in HB13-1214 for those who end up on probation include participation in a substance abuse driving safety program and mandatory ignition interlock requirements coupled with periods of continuous alcohol monitoring.

The fiscal impact on the state’s courts and correctional system will be significant as the burden of prosecution, supervision, and custody is transferred from the counties to the state. Approximately 3,000 cases would be eligible for the new felony classification, which could result in the mandatory one-year prison sentence for those convicted, with estimates being as high as 2,700 offenders.

The price tag for this bill is hefty, with the fiscal note weighing in at almost $60 million per year. The majority of these expenses are direct costs associated with mandatory prison requirements. There are also several million dollars in costs associated with the transfer of cases from the county jurisdiction to district court jurisdiction. This is a huge price tag for the state to consider in light of the projected $85-90 million loss in federal funding and the projected $810 million negative economic impact that federal sequestration could have on the state. Many drunk driving advocates consider the reclassification provisions of the bill to be long overdue, as well as an absolute necessity in the fight to eliminate drunk driving.

Along the same veins, Rep. Szabo (D) introduced HB13-1217, earlier in the month, which increases the amount of time that a person convicted of vehicular homicide must serve in prison prior to becoming eligible for parole. Under the current law, convicts must serve 50% of their sentence prior to becoming parole-eligible. The new bill would increase that mandatory time served to 75% if they had a prior serious driving conviction that occurred in Colorado.

The likelihood of these three bills turning into law remains to be seen as the state balances the complex issues of legalization efforts with highway safety. But one thing is for sure: The 162 voices that will not be heard this session are the victims of drunk driving crashes who died last year on the roads of Colorado.

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up: A blog about drunk driving, alcohol addiction, and criminal justice, is anything but a corporate blog. Sobering Up is an opportunity for anyone interested or involved in the issues of drunk driving, alcohol-fueled crime, alcohol dependence and addiction, and the justice system to participate in the conversation.

Leave a Response

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.