Due to recent changes made to Colorado law, it is now possible to be charged with a felony after a fourth (or more) DUI. The fourth conviction includes not just Colorado charges, but previous convictions in other states. It is also more than just DUI. If you have been convicted of DUI, DWAI, vehicular homicide, or vehicular assault in the past, a simple DUI in Colorado could be a felony if it is your fourth conviction. The importance of these changes is significant, and can result in serious legal difficulties, so you need to have trusted legal counsel if you face a DUI of any kind in Colorado.
Felony vs. misdemeanor charges
First, the basics: A felony is a more serious crime that carries with it a penalty of at least more than one year in state prison. A misdemeanor, on the other hand, does not necessarily mean a person is facing jail time, although a misdemeanor in Colorado can result in up to two years in county jail. Both misdemeanors and felonies can vary in their severity.
New law effective August 5, 2015 makes a fourth DUI a felony
You may have heard that Colorado recently made certain repeat DUI convictions a felony offense. Previously, repeat DUI offenses in Colorado were misdemeanors. Whether it was your second or ninth DUI arrest on suspicion of drunk driving, you would be facing a misdemeanor, so long as there were no other factors associated with the arrest that would lead to enhanced charges.
Colorado is the 46th state to make a repeat DUI a felony offense. The law applies to previous DUI convictions in other states. Additionally, Colorado has no “look back” period, meaning a prior DUI – no matter how long ago – is subject to the new law.
Anyone convicted of a fourth DUI in Colorado is facing up to six years in jail.
Felony and misdemeanor drunk driving criminal defense
A DUI charge is always at least a misdemeanor, although that does not necessarily mean you will face significant jail time for a first offense. However, administrative penalties and fines, not to mention your criminal record, make any charge of drunk driving a serious matter.
In addition to prior convictions, a DUI charge can be raised to a felony if another motorist or passenger was injured. In addition, if there were minor children in the vehicle with the intoxicated driver or if significant property damage occurred, you may be facing enhanced penalties up to and including felony charges.
While not a felony, drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 or greater (this amount was also recently lowered) are considered “persistent drunk drivers” and will face increased administrative penalties.
Felony Charges Are Not Mandatory, But Are Quite Likely
While not mandatory, making a fourth DUI a felony is an option for charging/sentencing that was not previously available in Colorado. Whether you are charged with a felony will be left up to the discretion of the prosecutor, and the penalties may vary widely based on that. However, the fact remains that the maximum punishment is always possible. With this higher punishment, there is more concern for those who have previous DUI convictions.
The Penalties Have Changed With the New Law
Along with the new law, there are harsher penalties for those who are convicted of a fourth DUI offense. These penalties now include:
- A fine of up to $500,000
- The potential for six years in a state prison
Whether you incur the maximum penalty or something below the top end of the threshold, the prison time and financial hardship can be devastating. For many people, recovery from these types of sentences is difficult; because of this, you need to do everything you can to fight the charges before they result in a conviction.
You Need an Advocate
Because the stakes are now higher than ever and so much depends on the facts of your particular case, you need an advocate to protect your rights. Without assertive legal help, you could find yourself with a felony conviction and the maximum possible penalty, instead of the potential for a lighter sentence and a misdemeanor on your record.
Choose Your Law Firm Wisely
At Flesch & Beck Law, in Denver, experienced drunk driving defense attorneys will work on your case. Even if you feel hopeless or your case is complex, our lawyers have the skills to provide you with a strong defense that is based on your specific situation. Proven strategies can help minimize your sentence, potentially even defeating the charges. That can allow you to move on with your life, and avoid the lengthy prison times and high fines that come with felony DUI convictions.