As this year’s legislative session draws to a close, the Colorado General Assembly is quickly trying to close a loophole left in an earlier DUI law that has allowed some repeat offenders to escape jail time. House Bill 17-1288 sailed through the House Judiciary Committee and now faces what is expected to be an easy vote in the full house.
Sentencing Data Shows Erratic Application
In 2015, Colorado lawmakers passed a felony DUI law that classified the fourth and subsequent DUI convictions as felonies. But that reclassification had the unintended consequence of erasing the previous mandatory jail time for a fourth conviction, allowing judges more latitude in sentencing – and they took advantage of it.
A statewide Denver Post review of sentencing data revealed that habitual DUI offenders receive dramatically different sentences. The research shows 8 percent of those convicted under the new law still evaded prison time by receiving simple probation or community service. “Nearly 30 percent of the cases resulted in a prison sentence and about 48 percent included a straight jail sentence. The rest of the sentences, about 22 percent, were for time served in halfway houses, jail work-release programs or straight probation,” according to the Denver Post.
Repeat Offenders Would Face Jail Time
House Bill 17-1288 would address these issues by establishing minimum sentencing guidelines for repeat offenders. The bill would mandate incarceration on the fourth and subsequent offenses, from 90 days in jail for a probation sentence, up to six years for a straight prison sentence. Even work release sentences would come with a minimum 120-day jail term that could stretch to as long as two years.
The bill enjoys rare bipartisan support and passed out of the House committee with a unanimous 10-0 vote.
The Heat is On
The legislative action follows in the wake of the launch of a five-week “The Heat is On” campaign targeting impaired drivers that kicked off April 7 and involves more than 100 law enforcement agencies across the state. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, last year’s campaign resulted in 1,555 drunk driving arrests. CDOT also reports there were 84 traffic deaths between April and May last year, nearly half of which involved impaired drivers.
Drunk driving is a factor in nearly 40 percent of traffic fatalities in Colorado. In fact, Colorado is ranked as the 12th most dangerous state for drunk driving. While it can be devastating financially to be arrested for drunk driving, it can be catastrophic for someone injured by a drunk driver – financially, as well as physically. These costs go well beyond the obvious, such as auto repairs and hospital bills. Costs most victims don’t consider include loss of productivity, as well as rehabilitation and emergency services costs. Incidentally, costs incurred by alcohol-involved crashes are typically higher than those of non-alcohol-involved crashes, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
If you have been injured in a car accident caused by an impaired driver, you could be eligible for compensation. To speak with a Denver personal injury attorney, call the law office of Burg Simpson at 303-792-5595 or contact your Colorado drunk driving victims lawyer online today for a Free Case Evaluation.