Posted in Blog on November 19, 2015
The Aspen Times is reporting that Mark Neal, 55, of Edwards has become the first person charged with a felony DUI in Piktin County. Neal was stopped and arrested for driving drunk late on Wednesday, November 4, on Highway 82.
Neal has four or five prior drunk driving convictions – the police and prosecutor in the case are citing different numbers – and these convictions qualify him to be charged with a felony under a law that went into effect on August 5.
Before the new law came into effect, Colorado was one of a handful of states where people with repeat drunken driving convictions were charged with no higher than a misdemeanor no matter how many times they were convicted of drunk driving. Now, a person who has at least three previous DUI convictions faces a felony charge if he or she is charged with DUI again.
Back in June 2, 2015, Governor John Hickenlooper finally signed the new DUI law after years of debate over the issue. At that time, 9News reported that the governor stated that Colorado was one of only four states without a felony charge for repeat DUIs before he signed the legislation. While 9News is reporting that the felony charge would likely apply to just a small percentage of the 20,000-plus cases of impaired driving in Colorado annually, lawmakers and advocacy groups hope that the tougher penalties will deter repeat DUI offenders from driving drunk.
It’s important to note the felony charge isn’t mandatory. The new law actually leaves its application to the judges’ discretion. The bill directs judges to consider the possibility of treatment options, but it does state that in cases when treatment is unlikely to work, the risk to public safety warrants a felony charge.
For a person to be charged under the new felony DUI law, he or she must have three prior convictions for DWAI and/or DUI. These previous convictions don’t have to be from Colorado, so convictions in other U.S. states that are classified as any of those four offenses in Colorado do count.
There are preventative measures written into the new law beyond the encouragement of treatment programs. Now, when repeat offenders have their licenses revoked, they’ll receive a conditional license that requires them to use an interlock device for at least two years and possibly up to five. Before, this requirement was only for one year. An interlock device will prevent a car from starting until the driver successfully passes a breath test that looks for alcohol.