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When does a misdemeanor for drunk driving become a felony?

Just a few years ago, any conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol was classed as a misdemeanor in the state of Colorado, but the drunk driving laws have changed.

At a certain level, the charge for DUI becomes a felony and brings with it some harsh penalties, including the possibility of time behind bars.

Risking a felony

If you have already had three convictions for DUI, you are still in misdemeanor territory, but with a fourth DUI, you are looking at a class 4 felony. To put this in perspective, as a drunk driver with perhaps a low blood alcohol content level, you now face the same harsh penalties as a driver who seriously injures someone. The penalties include up to six years in prison and as much as $500,000 in fines.

The Colorado House Bill

HB17-1288 addresses probation for drunk drivers with a class 4 felony conviction. This 2017 bill requires one of two conditions of probation:

  •         The defendant must serve at least 90 but not more than 180 days in county jail, and during the 90 day-period, the defendant does not qualify for good-time sentence deductions
  •         The defendant must serve 120 days to 2 years in county jail through his or her participation in an alternative sentencing program, if available

In addition to probation, the court must require the defendant to complete from 48 to 120 hours of public service and participate in a level II alcohol treatment or driving safety program at the defendant’s own expense.

Looking ahead

Keep in mind that jail time is not necessarily a given in class 4 felonies. Each DUI case is different, and judges have leeway to determine if, for example, time behind bars is the best penalty to assess. If law enforcement charges you with DUI, a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding your arrest may expose administrative errors or even malfunctioning testing equipment. 

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