Colorado Considers Minimum Sentencing Requirements For DUI Convictions

black Image of scales on white background with the words, "calibrate the scales" overlaid. As with any set of scales, the scales of justice must, from time to time, be recalibrated. Total balance is never achieved, but all in the criminal justice and legal systems must strive for it as much as possible.




Minimum mandatory sentences started in the 1990s in response to drug offenders or repeat offenders. Seeing an inequality in the way that judges were sentencing people, and that many who had committed a crime were being released too early only to repeat offend, mandatory sentences seemed like a reasonable way to ensure that everyone is treated fairly in the eyes of the court. Minimum sentencing was also created so that no one is “let off easy” simply for who they were, what resources they had, or because a judge was unaware of their prior history.

Colorado is currently considering a minimum sentencing requirement for those who drink and drive, but is it a good idea? There is new legislation that addresses the times where judges are too lenient and let those with DUI felonies off the hook without any jail time or any severe consequences. The proposed changes would require that a person is sentenced to a minimum of 90 days in jail, or 120 days in a jail work-release program for a felony DUI.

 

Currently, a section of the population is facing long jail time while others are evading prison time, all due to loopholes in the law. House Bill 17-1288 has bipartisan support and is gaining speed. Although they are typically opposed to minimum sentencing, even the Democratic leadership in the state of Colorado supports the new measure to make things more equitable and to make people who do the crime do the time, period.




In response to judges who grant probation to felony DUI crimes instead of following the guidelines, the new measure would make it impossible for judges to use their own discretion when they are punishing someone who gets caught drunk driving. Since the Denver Post released the statistics about the inequality in sentencing, lawmakers felt the need to step in and change what was going on across the state. The data showed that judges were handing out very different sentences for those who habitually drink and drive.

 

They found that about 8% of the defendants convicted of a felony were walking away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. What they also found was that there was an additional 30% who faced prison time for the same infractions. The new minimum sentencing requirements would mean that a defendant would receive a mandatory period of time in either jail or prison.

 

The prison sentences would be anywhere from two to six years according to the circumstances of the case, with alternative work-release programs only being allowed in certain instances. Those who received work release would additionally have to be in prison for a minimum of 120 days, but wouldn’t be sentenced to more than two years of prison time.

 

In 2015, the felony DUI statute was passed, making anyone who is convicted of a DUI more than four times a felony offense. Before its passage, a felony DUI was in place, which required all offenders that had more than three misdemeanor drinking and driving convictions to be remanded to jail for a minimum of 60 days. Although it was meant to strengthen the tools that judges had to put offenders behind bars, what it did was give judges the ability to sentence as they saw fit, instead of having a minimum guide to abide by.

 

When the bill was brought up for discussion, there was not one Baltimore dui lawyer who stood in opposition to it. Evidence supporting the measure uncovered that there were instances where people have been caught upwards of eight times driving while under the influence and hadn’t ever served but one day in prison.

 

There will always be inequalities in the court system; it is just the human limitation of the ones who run the law. But with minimum sentencing laws, there is less likelihood that some judge will take it into their own hands to say what is fair and what isn’t. It will also make it less likely that a person who has the money for a good defense will be able to get away with repeatedly breaking the law.




Hugh Howerton