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Felony DUI Convictions Now Come With Guaranteed Jail Time

This article looks at Colorado’s mandatory minimum jail law for felony DUI, which went into effect last year.

Driving under the influence is a serious charge in Colorado and one that has been made even tougher by state lawmakers. As CBS Denver reports, last year a law that included mandatory minimum jail sentences for felony DUI offenders went into effect. The new law is meant to address the disparities in sentences that are often handed down by judges in DUI cases, although critics contend that the mandatory sentences will make it harder to tailor sentences that better fit the crime.

Mandatory jail for felony DUI

The law, which went into effect in August 2017, requires anybody convicted of a felony DUI to serve a jail sentence of between 90 and 180 days if a judge hands them a probation. If the offender is sentenced to a work release program, then he or she is required to spend between 120 days to two years in jail. The law also requires offenders to complete 48 to 120 hours of public service and prevents early release through sentence reductions.

The felony DUI charge is more serious than the more common misdemeanor DUI charge. Drivers are charged with felony DUI for their fourth and subsequent DUIs. That felony DUI law was introduced in 2015 and was designed to crack down on repeat drunk drivers.

Disparate sentences and judicial discretion

The mandatory minimum sentences are in reaction to a Denver Post analysis of sentencing data of felony DUIs after the 2015 changes went into effect. The newspaper found that judges were handing down extremely disparate sentences for repeat DUIs, with some offenders receiving no jail time while others received lengthy sentences. The data showed that eight percent of convicted felony DUIs resulted in no incarceration time, while 30 percent resulted in prison sentences.

However, mandatory minimum sentences are inherently controversial as they restrict judges from handing down sentences that better fit the crime. Judges are hamstrung by forcing felony DUI offenders into jail sentences when rehabilitation or other alternatives may be a better option. Essentially, the law risks treating all felony DUI offenders with an overly broad brush without considering their levels of remorse or desire to seek treatment.

Criminal law help

Being charged with a DUI or any other criminal offense in Colorado needs to be taken extremely seriously. As the above article shows, lawmakers and police are cracking down on impaired driving and the stakes if convicted are higher than ever before. Anybody facing such charges needs to get in touch with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can assist clients with their cases, including by advocating for their rights and best interests during what is often a stressful and confusing time.