DENVER (CBS4)– Three strikes and you’re a felon– that’s how one lawmaker wants to treat repeat DUI offenders.
Some 30,000 drivers are arrested every year in Colorado for DUI and they’re charged with misdemeanors even if they have been convicted of drunk driving previously.
Colorado is one of four states without a felony DUI statute.
The bill is designed to prevent crashes like the one involving Zachariah Dobler. He plowed into a tow truck driver Alan Dilley last year and killed him.
Dobler admitted he was drunk. It wasn’t his first DUI conviction– he had three prior DUIs.
“Any DUI, first to whatever 10th, 20th, 50th, if you got to that point. Right now the maximum penalty is one year in the county jail,” said Rep. Mark Waller, a Republican representing Colorado Springs.
Waller told the House Judiciary Committee there is little in Colorado law to deter drunk driving; it’s a misdemeanor no matter how many times you’re convicted.
Waller’s bill calls for making a person’s third DUI conviction in seven years or a fourth in a lifetime a felony with up to three years in prison.
Waller, a former prosecutor, recalls severe cases that resulted in minor punishment.
“I can remember dealing with this guy once who had five DUIs in five weeks,” said Waller.
He believes if you hang a felony over a DUI driver he or she may be more likely to get court-ordered treatment to avoid prison.
“This creates a much greater incentive for someone to get the treatment needed to be successful and get back out into society,” said Waller.
The bill would also apply to driving while impaired. Prosecutors said many driving impaired convictions start as DUIs and are pleaded down to lesser offenses.
“Every time somebody is caught driving drunk on average they have driven 80 times previously when they are drunk,” said Waller.
Among those supporting the bill are Geoff Grenzke. He shared his story with the panel.
“I still remember fumes coming into the car and hearing my friend screaming,” said Grenzke.
He was struck by a drunk driver who had six prior DUIs.
More DUI drivers in prison means more prisons expenses.
The bill has an estimated cost of $16 million. It passed unanimously out of the House Judiciary Committee and is headed to the Appropriations Committee.