DENVER (CBS4) — There’s an effort to change Colorado’s law in cases where a driver kills or seriously injures someone. Right now many times the driver is just sentenced to probation. That may soon change.
More than two dozen cases in the last 10 years resulted in the offender being sentenced to probation. They were cases where someone got behind the wheel — often times intoxicated — and killed someone. While lesser crimes require prison time, this particular crime doesn’t.
When Englewood police officer Jeremy Bitner was hit and killed by a man with a blood alcohol content nearly three times the legal limit, nobody dreamed the driver could only get probation.
“The police department, the district attorney’s office, the community just took it for granted that if you’re going to drive drunk at two to three times the legal limit, run over and kill police officer, that certainly you absolutely have to go to prison. And then to find out that the probation department recommended probation, and not prison, I think was a big red flag for us,” Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said.
Brauchler says the sentence was ultimately 10 years in prison, but in Colorado vehicular homicide has no mandatory minimum sentence, so a judge can give probation, which Brauchler says happens too often.
Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County, agrees.
“There needs to be some consistency in the sentencing across the board,” Lawrence said.
More than a dozen other crimes in Colorado carry minimum mandatory sentences.
Lawrence has introduced a bill that would require at least four years behind bars in cases where a person kills or seriously injures another while driving drunk or high.
“We’re in one of two states in country that made the decision for better or worse to legalize marijuana,” Brauchler said. “I think you would have to be high to conclude that that isn’t going to increase the number of people who are on our roads who are impaired or intoxicated.”
“I think we need to send a really strong statement that Colorado is not going to tolerate people coming here, getting high, getting in a car and hurting someone,” Lawrence said. “If you do that you’re going to be staying in Colorado longer than you anticipated, and it’s not going to be in a nice hotel.”
So far there has been no vocal opposition to the bill.
Lawrence is a Republican, but Democratic leadership, including the chair of the judiciary committee where the bill will go first, says they support the bill’s intent but want more detail before they are willing to endorse it.