On June 1, 2015, Governor Hickenlooper signed a bill making Colorado one of the last states in the Union to provide for a “Felony DUI.” The bill became law on August 5, 2015 and provides that, upon a fourth conviction for an alcohol traffic offense, an offender can be sentenced to prison for a class 4 felony. The law does not mandate a prison sentence and a judge still has significant options short of imprisonment, including Probation or Community Corrections. To qualify as a fourth offense, an offender must have been previously convicted of DUI, DWAI, Vehicular Assault or Vehicular Homicide at any time in the past and offenses that are substantially similar in any other state would count as priors.
If you have been charged with a Felony DUI, there are significant steps that can be taken to help you avoid a prison sentence. The first and most obvious thing that can be done is to avoid being convicted, but even if a conviction seems likely, there are things that a client can do to mitigate the sentence and increase the likelihood of avoiding a prison sentence. We feel that it is important to be represented on a Misdemeanor DUI, but it is dramatically more critical to have effective and experienced representation if you are facing a potential prison sentence for a Felony DUI because of the penalties you could face.
For many DUI offenders, it is a harsh reality that they could face more than a misdemeanor for their crime. For a first-time DUI, the crime is typically charged as a misdemeanor; however, there are some circumstances that will be covered that could classify the charge as a felony. In a number of states, you may also find that the DUI will be raised from a misdemeanor to a felony if the driver has a second, third, or fourth DUI offense. Regardless of whether an offender has received a misdemeanor or felony, there will be harsh penalties for the crime at hand because of the risks it could carry to drive while under the influence. Felony offenses, for instance, can result in a year or more in prison, while a misdemeanor may result in maximum of up to a year in jail, though it will probably be much less time.(1)
How can somebody tell if they will receive a felony or misdemeanor for their DUI? Each state handles these laws differently depending on the various circumstances surrounding the case. Here are some of those circumstances, explained:
Blood Alcohol Level: Was the offender’s blood alcohol concentration above a legally specified amount? This is one way in which you can see a misdemeanor rise to a felony. In most states, the BAC of .08% is the minimum level a person must have to be charged with a DUI. Say that an offender’s BAC was .16 or more – they may face a felony charge for this.
Injury: Was the driver who had been drinking involved in an accident that resulted in harm to another driver or person? If you are involved in a crash while drinking and driving, you will not always receive a felony. However, if someone becomes injured as a result of your reckless actions, the crime could be considered a felony. Usually, it will not matter who was injured. It could be the passenger or the drunk driver himself or herself, and a felony could still result.
Evidence of Previous Offenses: Was there evidence of previous DUI convictions not too long before the other DUI charge? A habitual offender will often face DUI charges on a felony level if this is evident. A state may choose to categorize a DUI as a felony if the driver was convicted of over three DUIs within a matter of years; however, some states will be stricter with these rules at their own discretion. In some states, a judge may rule that two DUIs within ten years is enough to charge with a DUI or just felony.
Evidence of a Child in the Vehicle: Having other people in the vehicle at the time of the DUI could result in a felony as well. This is true, especially, if a child or children were in the vehicle. This could include any person who is under the age of 16 and is riding with you when you are driving under the influence.
Driving With a Suspended License: When a license is suspended for another offense, the driver is not legally permitted to drive until they receive these rights again. This is why, if an offender is caught driving under the influence on a license suspension, the DUI could raise from a misdemeanor to a felony offense. (2)
It is typically at the discretion of the judge and the laws of the state to decide whether or not somebody will receive a misdemeanor or a felony for their second DUI. However, the criminal penalties may include a minimum of 10 days in prison and paying a fine. Here is what an offender can expect regarding penalties in Colorado:
Prison Sentence: In Colorado, you should expect to spend anywhere from 45 days to 1 year for a second DUI sentence. It is 5 days mandatory. State laws will differ widely on prison terms, with sentences of seven years or more being seen depending on the circumstances.
Fines: Fines can range anywhere from $600 to $1,000 or more.
Probation: Sometimes the court will decide to impose probation instead of a prison sentence or, in some cases, both. If an offender finds themselves on probation, they will usually have restricted liberties like mandatory drug and alcohol counseling, not being allowed in places where alcohol is present, maintaining employment, and more.
Driving Restrictions: Driving is a legal right, which means that if you do not obey the rules of the road, you could lose these driving privileges. There could be administrative penalties applied to a felony DUI, such as limitations or suspensions. A suspension period, an offender may find, can last up to 90 days or longer depending on case circumstances.
As many people will find when they receive a DUI felony charge, this conviction can alter their day-to-day lifestyle in ways they may not have imagined. Jail time, fines, probation and many more restrictions can be expected, which is why it is especially important for you to have an experienced felony DUI attorney on your side through the process from arrest to conviction. A felony DUI can be life changing, but does not have to restrict you from returning to your daily life as time goes on. Call us today for more information on how you can get started with your case.