DENVER (CBS4) – A crash on Sunday night that claimed the lives of a father and his two sons in Weld County is bringing more attention to efforts at the state Capitol to make repeat drunk driving a felony.
Gilbert Martinez, 37; and his two sons, Ethan, 6; and Bryson, 1; died in the crash. The suspected drunk driver, identified as Rigoberto Macias-Marquez, 44, also died.
CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd has reported the last two years on failed efforts at the Capitol to make repeat drunk driving a felony.
“But this year, I think it’s going to happen,” Boyd said on CBS4 News.
Gov. John Hickenlooper called for it in his State of the State address and the bill introduced has wide bipartisan support.
The Weld County deadly crash isn’t the first in Colorado involving a repeat drunk driver, but it may be the one that finally convinces lawmakers that at some point people who drive drunk again and again deserve prison time.
“At some point I don’t think it’s a matter of punishment, it’s a matter of public safety. If you’re going to keep driving drunk, I can’t let you put people’s lives in danger that many times for public safety,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.
Johnston is carrying a bill that would make four DUIs in a lifetime a felony, or three DUIs in seven years under certain circumstances.
“If there are kids in the car, if hurt someone or some property, if you flee from the scene, or if you’re more than twice the legal alcohol limit,” Johnston said.
“I get it and get the punishment piece of this,” Maureen Cain with the Criminal Defense Bar said.
Cain says prison won’t prevent it.
“We’re trying to look at more effective DUI classes and treatment for first offense and the second offense, because curriculum that we have is over 20 years old,” Cain said.
Johnston says his bill addresses treatment, but he says when hanging a felony over a drunk driver, they’re more likely to finish treatment.
Johnston has an answer for critics who say it raises prison costs too much.
“I wouldn’t want to be the one at funeral of the 1 and 6 year old who were killed in Weld County last night to ask them how much that was worth,” he said. “If you make those decisions over and over, you’re going to face prison time.”
Under the bill anyone convicted would face two to six years in prison. But the judge would be required to consider other options such as treatment, which has some district attorneys concerned it may lead to softer sentences in some courts. Anyone convicted of two DUIs would have to have a breathalyzer-like device on their car for up to five years so they can’t drive if they’ve been drinking.
“In Colorado law right now if you have a bad habit of getting drunk and walking out of your house and firing a shotgun down Main Street, you could face 40 years in prison the first time you do it because you’re putting people’s lives in serious danger,” Johnston said. “Right now in Colorado law you could get in a 4,000-pound vehicle and get drunk and drive it down that same street where all our kids are playing and you can do it, not one time, not two times, but seven, eight, 10 times and never face single day in prison. And so our belief is we’ve waited far too long to say we’re not going to take that chance with our family members.”