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State Lawmakers To Debate Tougher Penalties For DUI

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DENVER (CBS4)- Drivers repeatedly busted for drinking and driving in Colorado could soon face tougher penalties including a felony conviction.

Colorado has some of the most lenient laws in the nation when it comes to DUI charges. It’s one of six states where no matter how many times drivers are caught driving drunk the charge is a misdemeanor.

That charge is punishable by, at the most, one year in the county jail. Only after that driver kills someone or serious bodily injury is involved, does the charge become a felony.

“Multiple DUI cases come through all the time. They’re a significant public safety risk,” said Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett.

Garnett handled three deadly crashes in which multiple DUIs were documented.

In the first, a father driving six children rolled the vehicle and killed his son. He had been arrested a dozen times and was fresh out of jail. Police said he was driving drunk.

In another, a woman was just two days into her probation for a DUI when she tried to swim away from the crash in which she killed a man and seriously injured his daughter.

And yet another in which a man with a blood alcohol content three times the legal limit ran a red light and struck a pregnant woman. He killed her unborn baby. It was his fifth DUI.

Garnett said his office sees five cases a week of people with three or more DUIs but until they kill or seriously injure someone the most he can charge is a misdemeanor.

“With some of these folks every other tool we have- taking away drivers’ privilege, putting them in jail, mandating treatment- has not worked they continue to get in the car and drive,” said Garnett.

Garnett is supporting the legislation to make the third DUI in a seven year time period or fourth in a lifetime a felony.

Representative Mark Waller, a Republican representing El Paso County, is the bill’s sponsor. He believes if you hang a felony over a DUI driver, they’re more likely to finish treatment.

“Statistics actually show a person drives 86 times drunk before they’re caught. You’re talking about someone with three DUIs in seven years who obviously has a problem and obviously has been driving on Colorado roads and unsafe on Colorado roads over a seven-year period,” said Waller.

This is the second time Waller has sponsored this legislation. Lawmakers who opposed it last year complained it raised prison costs too much.

In some cases, Waller said prison is the only option left.

“This bill is truly about trying to enhance public safety,” said Waller.

If the bill passes, anyone convicted of DUI would face up to six years in prison.

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