No matter where you are going for St. Patrick’s Day, it’s safe to assume you might have a drink or two. After all, St. Paddy’s Day is one of the biggest holidays for drinking, which unfortunately also means that it is one of the biggest days for drinking and driving – especially in Colorado.
Last year, to combat this problem, Colorado officers beefed up law enforcement on the roads around the holiday. From March 11-18, they arrested 396 drivers for DUI/DWI. The year before, 505 drivers were arrested, so it’s safe to say that the amount of drivers who will face DUI charges during the St. Patrick’s Day weekend this year will likely reach into the hundreds.
In 2015, most of those DUI charges were misdemeanors. No matter how many prior convictions you had on your record, felony DUIs were only given out to drivers who caused serious bodily injuries.
In August of 2015, however, things changed. Colorado added a felony DUI charge for drivers who had at least three DUI convictions on their record. The heightened charge was meant to crack down on drivers who continued to drink and drive despite the consequences.
Last St. Paddy’s Day, however, Colorado police still didn’t have a handle on how to identify drivers who were eligible for a felony – or what to do with them once they received the charge. Various districts were inconsistent on how to penalize felony offenders and what would happen next. Confusion around the charges was frankly, a mess.
Over a year after the measure took affect, drivers still have questions about what it means to get a felony DUI.
Common Questions about Colorado’s Felony DUI Law
When are drivers charged with a felony DUI?
In Colorado, you can only receive a felony DUI charge if:
- You have three separate DUI convictions on your criminal record
- The DUI resulted in serious bodily injuries
What is the difference between a felony and misdemeanor?
Felony charges are more serious than misdemeanor charges. In addition to longer prison sentences, you lose certain rights and benefits. For more about felonies and the restrictions on felons in Colorado, read our past blog post.
What are the penalties for felony DUI?
When Governor Hickenlooper signed the measure that added felony DUI charges for habitual offenders, the consequences were capped at six years in prison. One of the biggest problems with this new measure, however, is that law enforcement in different counties has been inconsistent with the penalties given to felony DUI offenders.
While you may see jail time for felony DUI, you could also receive penalties including fines, probation, work-release programs, community service hours, or the installation of an ignition interlock device. Additionally, your license will most likely be suspended, but there is no clear time period for how long it will be suspended.
I was charged with a felony DUI, but I don’t qualify. What happened?
Simple answer? There may be some kinks left to work out.
To avoid charging an individual with a lesser charge, some individuals who qualify for misdemeanor charges might accidently receive a felony charge. Why? Because it’s easier for law enforcement to drop a felony to a misdemeanor than it is to bring a misdemeanor up to a felony.
If you have been charged with any type of DUI – whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony – your goal should be to get the charges dropped completely. There are all kinds of things that can go wrong in charging someone with driving under the influence, including tests that improperly measure your BAC for a variety of reasons.
The bottom line? A charge is not a conviction. Talk to a Colorado DUI lawyer today to get started on crafting the strongest defense possible.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.