Last year Colorado joined several other states in the introduction of new legislation designed to curb drinking and driving. The new standards put forth by the Governor’s office and state legislation now makes a 4th DUI conviction in the automatic state grounds for a felony charge and can come with up to six years in prison for offenders. The legislation was applauded by several safety groups and received majority support in the state, but the punishment portion of the new law has not been entirely pursued several months into law.
There were two parts of the new legislation, changing a fourth DUI from a misdemeanor to a felony, and the ability of judges to enforce more severe jail time for those offenders, up to six years, but most judges are choosing not to enforce the maximum penalties, specifically in Northern Colorado.
Out of 71 resolved DUI cases in Larimer County since the law has passed, only one has resulted in the maximum six-year prison sentence. The sentence was handed out to Juan Pena, who was arrested for DUI in the Fort Collins area. It was Pena’s 12th DUI conviction. Though the law and its accompanying harsher penalties have been in effect since August 2, 2015, 85 percent of those convicted of class four felonies under the new law did not receive any jail time at all, and those that did often served less than six months.
The law was established with flexibility, as every DUI case is different, but the lack of real punishment for felony DUI offenders has left proponents frustrated, though Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke points to the fact that the new law is still much harsher than previous Colorado DUI law.
“There are defendants sitting in prison now because of the law, something that wouldn’t have happened if not for this statute,” Rourke wrote in a statement. “More so, they now have a felony, not just a misdemeanor, so the penalty for offending again is much steeper.”
For now, groups on both sides of the argument will wait as more data comes in about the new law and the punishments that come with it. Though Rourke is for the law, he can see some areas where improvement could be used. “Should the sentences be lengthier than we’re seeing? Absolutely. But this law at least puts us in the right direction.”