Why Colorado’s Proposed Felony DUI Law is a Bad Idea
It seems like just about every year the Colorado Legislature takes up the idea of creating a felony DUI law. Currently, Colorado joins Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Maine, as one of only five states that do not have some form of a felony DUI law. While most states make a third or subsequent offense a felony, there are a few, including New York, which actually make a second DUI within 10 years a felony offense.
The problem with felony DUI laws, including Colorado’s proposed law, is that there’s no evidence they are effective in actually reducing the number of drunk drivers on the road or reducing fatal alcohol related traffic accidents. According to MADD.org, in 2013, 28.5% of fatal traffic accidents involved alcohol in Colorado. Comparatively, in New York 30.4% of fatal traffic accidents involved alcohol, in South Dakota that number is also 30.4%, in Oklahoma, 25.1% and in California, 28.1%. All four of those states have robust felony DUI laws. Moreover, MADD currently gives Colorado 5 stars for our DUI enforcement and prevention efforts, while Oklahoma, New York and California are given 4 stars, and South Dakota is only ranked 2 stars for their efforts to prevent and enforce DUI laws. While the four states listed above are only represent a sampling of DUI laws across the country, nationwide about 29% of all fatal traffic accidents involve alcohol. Clearly, robust felony DUI laws do little to lower the number of people killed by drunk drivers, which is ultimately the purpose DUI enforcement to begin with.
So then why should Colorado spend an estimated $29.7 million dollars over the next four years on more laws, which are demonstrably ineffective at preventing DUI related deaths? That’s not to mention the additional stress on an already overburdened legal system, the realities of a felony conviction on an individual’s ability to be a functioning a productive member of the community, and the additional stress to the prison system. The reality is that felony DUI laws overlook the fundamental nature of a DUI offense, alcohol impairs a person’s ability to make decisions and alcohol addiction leads to repeated DUI arrests. It’s for this very reason that the ignition interlock, strong dram shop liability laws, adequate public transportation systems and effective addiction treatment for repeat offenders are far more effective at curtailing the number of drunk drivers on the road, and ultimately alcohol related traffic deaths, than further criminalization could ever be.
For a state which has now legalized marijuana use and sale, I’m disappointed Colorado isn’t willing to consider legislation that could actually be effective. First, the ignition interlock is a proven and effective tool in reducing drunk drivers, it all but makes it impossible to drive drunk. Expanding both the interlock laws and furthering interlock technology is an effective way to prevent drunk drivers, while allowing those previously convicted to still maintain employment and work toward rehabilitation. Next, consider expanding the dram shop liability laws. As a society, we’re afraid to hold bars and alcohol companies responsible for drunk drivers actions, which is a shame. While we’ll gladly hold a gun manufacturer liable for the actions of their customers, or a tobacco company responsible for the obvious consequences of using their product, the notion of holding a bar responsible when they pump drinks into a customer and watch them walk out the door and drive off is completely foreign. I’m certainly not advocating placing the responsibility for their customer’s actions on solely on the shoulders of a bar, yet it’s foolish to believe they are unable to foresee their customers are walking out the door and driving home. Finally, effective and early treatment of alcohol addiction is a necessity. The current mandatory treatment scheme for DUI offenders is absolutely laughable. I challenge any member of the legislature or the governor to actually attend the mandated treatment before further voting or approving further criminalization. I’m confident they’ll come away demanding change.
Finally, specialty courts such as DUI specific courts have already proven incredibly effective at reducing recidivism. Specialty courts, while only offered in a small number of jurisdictions, incorporate effective individually tailored treatment programs with thorough monitoring and frequent oversight, all while incentivizing success by actually reducing the amount of incarceration an offender faces. Offender’s cases are managed and staffed by a treatment team to include therapists, probation officers, Judges, prosecutors, and defense counsel. All of whom are present at every court date. Family involvement and personal accountability is also encouraged and offenders are expected to appear in court frequently during the duration of the case, generally 2-3 years. After successful completion of the program, the likelihood of reoffending is dramatically decreased.
The old model of “lock’em up and throw away the key” has already proven ineffective at addressing drug addiction, why should we think it would be effective at addressing alcohol addiction? If Colorado truly wants to meaningfully address drunk driving, there are ways to do so, unfortunately, simply changing the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony in hopes that prison will address the issue, is not the way to do so. Colorado’s proposed legislation cannot and will not address the problem of drunk driving.
-Steven Rodemer, Esq.
Steve Rodemer is a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor in Colorado Springs at The Law Office of Steven Rodemer, LLC. Steve has been named as one of the “Top 40 Attorneys Under 40” by the National Trial Lawyers for the past four years, a “Top 100” DUI Attorney by the National Advocacy for DUI Defense and was named as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers in 2014 and 2015. Steve has also achieved a “10/10 superb” rating by Avvo.com. More information can be found at www.coloradospringscriminaldefense.net.
Steve can be reached at:
Law Office of Steven Rodemer, LLC
90 South Cascade Avenue
Colorado Springs, CO