A new Colorado law might make life a little safer in the Roaring Fork Valley. If someone is caught driving drunk for the fourth time, a new statewide law makes a that a felony offense.
Sherry Caloia is District Attorney for the 9th Judicial District. She explains the number of people a year that usually are arrested for drunk driving for the fourth time. “It probably means that we will have initially, maybe ten, ten to fifteen cases,” says Caloia.
If convicted, the offender could serve up to six years in state prison. Previously, drunk drivers in Colorado could get only misdemeanor charges, as long as they didn’t get in an accident. The new felony law went into effect on Wednesday, August 5th, so an offender has to be arrested that day or later to be eligible. “And I don’t think I’d want to be the first person in the county to get that charge,” says Caloia, “because we’re going to be looking at that pretty hard.”
“The impact of increasing the penalty range available to the court is probably a good thing,” says DUI defense attorney Lawson Wills. He’s based in Glenwood Springs, and finds most clients learn their lesson after getting caught once. “The second one you are going to go to jail,” explains Wills. “A third one you’re going to jail for 60 days, at a mandatory minimum. And when you’re in jail for 60 days, you don’t pay your mortgage, you lose your job, you probably lose your family. Now, somebody that doesn’t remember that and goes out and creates a fourth one, is someone that really has issues with alcohol. So a felony probably is appropriate at that point."
Like Caloia, Wills estimates there won’t be a lot of DUI cases that fall into that category, so he doesn’t anticipate the new law will affect his business that much. The new law is projected to cost the state $2 - $4 million dollars a year. Caloia anticipates it’ll cost more for her office to prosecute those cases, but she says it’s worth it. “I think we need to start somewhere. Let’s see how it works, and hopefully it will deter some people from getting in their cars after they’ve been drinking.”