Cover of House Bill 1043

House Bill 1043 (the felony DUI bill). Photo courtesy of Colorado General Assembly.

Colorado’s new felony DUI law goes into effect today. Under the new law, which Governor John Hickenlooper signed on June 1, a person convicted of a fourth drunk driving offense can be charged with a felony and a fine of up to $500,000, as this blog has reported.

The state joins the 45 other states that have a felony DUI law, as Lindsay Watts writes for The Denver Channel. She notes that prior to this law, those convicted of DUI in Colorado were only charged with a misdemeanor and were sentenced up to only a year in jail.

In an article for KKCO11 News, Daniela Pardo quotes Dan Chermock of the Colorado State Patrol:

‘What this means for the drivers on our roadways is that we’re trying to make our roadways safer. We’re sick and tired of having people lose their lives for no reason — for having these people that have multiple DUI convictions that keep doing it,’ said Chermock.

As this blog reported, during the last five years, legislation similar to this new law failed in Colorado, partly because some Democrats were concerned that the bill did not do enough to rehabilitate habitual offenders with substance abuse problems. The first version of the bill would have created a felony charge for a third arrest for the worst cases, we wrote.

Prado writes that Ellie Phipps, of Grand Junction, has worked hard to get stricter DUI laws in Colorado, after nearly losing her life when she was hit by a six-time DUI offender four years ago. She told Prado she is “thrilled” that the new law is going into effect but that it needs to be stronger in the future. She is also concerned about people driving while high, as Prado reports. Phipps is working with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to get tougher laws enacted during the next legislative session. She would like legislators to write a law that creates an automatic felony if a driver is found impaired with a minor as a passenger, Prado writes.

Gail Oleson, whose husband was killed by a drunk driver 33 years ago by a driver who had four DUI convictions (and who also died in the accident), testified to help change the law, Watts writes. “In my opinion, the law’s still not stringent enough,” Oleson said, as Watts writes. But it is a start in the right direction, Oleson said.

The new law will only apply to a small percentage of Colorado’s 24,000 cases of impaired driving annually, as this blog reported:

It gives judges discretion to sentence the offenders according to the facts and circumstances of each case, including a defendant’s willingness to participate in a treatment program, he writes. It is written to help prevent drunk drivers from reaching four strikes, Rittiman writes, by requiring them to get a conditional license that mandates the use of an ignition interlock device for two to five years after their driver’s license is revoked, [Brandon] Rittiman writes [for 9News]. As this blog has written, an interlock device will not allow the ignition to start if the person behind the wheel is not sober.

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