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Senate stalls Colorado bill to upgrade repeat DUIs to felonies

Any length of time in jail can be detrimental to a defendant's life. A six-month sentence for a misdemeanor or a one-year term or longer for a felony may have the same effect. Jail time causes obstacles to higher education, housing and job prospects plus wage losses that can disrupt or ruin a family's finances.

Colorado lawmakers recently considered a bill that would have imposed harsher charges and penalties upon DUI repeat offenders. Under the measure, a third drunk driving offense within five years or fourth DUI within 15 years would have become a class 4 felony. Currently, and for the foreseeable future, offenses for driving while intoxicated in Colorado are misdemeanors.

The proposed law, known as House Bill 1036, had almost unanimous approval in a House vote last month. A Senate judiciary committee revised the measure, after objections the implementation of the plan would cost $3.4 million. The reworked bill, which eliminated the initial year's costs, was transferred to a Senate appropriations committee, where it stalled over budgetary concerns.

Colorado is one of less than a half dozen states where felonies for drunk-driving violations don't exist. The bill's supporters were shocked by the Senate's response to the proposal and vowed to keep pushing lawmakers to upgrade repeat offense DUI charges. Supporters' ammunition included reports, like one from the Pacific Institute for Research & Evaluation, which stated Colorado recorded 133 DUI traffic deaths and more than 600 related injuries in 2012.

Repeat DUIs often indicate that a driver has an uncontrollable problem with substance abuse. Colorado drug courts offer an alternative to punishment that has proven to be effective, by dealing with the alcohol or drug problem at the source – within the affected individual. Defendants accepted into the program, through attorney or probation officer referrals, undergo treatment, drug testing and monitoring with the purpose of rehabilitation that prisons don't foster or provide.

Source: Daily Camera, "Supporters disappointed Colorado failed to pass felony DUI bill" Kate Gibbons, The Denver Post, May. 07, 2014

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