Each year, Colorado law enforcement arrests thousands of motorists for driving under the influence of alcohol. Until recently, you could be arrested innumerable times, and each arrest would be a misdemeanor. However, frustrated by the number of repeat offenders and the rising number of DUI accidents, lawmakers passed a bill in 2015 establishing a driver’s fourth offense as a felony.
Now facing a felony DUI charge, you risk much harsher penalties and more serious overall consequences, although the new law stopped short of imposing mandatory sentences. Because of this, some are concerned about the lack of consistency in sentencing drivers faced with felony DUI charges. Judges send some offenders to jail for months for a third misdemeanor while someone convicted of a felony DUI may receive a much shorter sentence. You may wonder how this will affect your case.
Problems with the law
During the first year of its enforcement, the new policy caused some problems for law enforcement. At the time of your arrest, officers may not have been able to ascertain if you had previous convictions for drunk driving. This was typical during the first year of the new law’s enforcement. Many who should have received felony charges escaped with misdemeanors because of the inconsistencies in the process.
You may have your own criticisms of the new law, but those on both sides of the argument seem to agree on a few points:
- Prison sentences for DUI adds to overcrowding with non-violent offenders.
- Penalties do not include alcohol rehabilitation programs or access to addiction counseling.
- Incarceration often leads to joblessness, which may continue the spiral into substance abuse.
Despite this, many prosecutors say the only way to make the law fair is to impose mandatory minimum sentences that are stricter than what you would receive if police charged you with a misdemeanor. No one has introduced a bill to that effect, but lawmakers are discussing the possibility.
Protecting your future
Even if police charged you with a misdemeanor, a DUI conviction can disrupt your life in long-lasting ways. If you are facing a felony DUI, you may be looking at years in prison, not to mention the damage a felony can do to your future. Felony convictions can drastically limit the types of jobs for which you are eligible, your housing opportunities, even college scholarships and financial aid.
Fighting the charges is the best way to protect your future. However, going to court without experienced criminal legal representation may hinder your success. To maximize the chances of reaching a positive outcome, many find that having an attorney to defend their rights in court makes all the difference.