Ritter signs DUI measure requiring jail for repeat offenders
The Denver Post
DENVER, Colo. – Gov. Bill Ritter signed legislation Tuesday that requires jail sentences for people who repeatedly get caught driving drunk.
The new law imposes a minimum 10-day sentence for a second offense and 60 days for third and subsequent offenses. It permits work-release programs but not in-home detention if a second offense occurs within five years of the first.
Speakers at the signing ceremony said it was time for Colorado to treat persistent drunken driving as a serious threat to public safety.
“If you have a third DUI, the judge has to put you in jail,” Ritter said before signing the bill.
In Colorado, “we were operating a revolving door for drunk drivers,” said Rep. Claire Levy, the House sponsor. “I can’t think of a bigger risk to public safety than what is literally a loose cannon on our public streets.”
In a series of stories last year, The Denver Post reported that some drunken drivers were sentenced to no time in jail on their fourth, fifth and even seventh offenses. The Post also found that sentences for repeat offenders varied widely from court to court and from county to county, and some offenders were spared jail time after they killed people while driving drunk.
Unlike most states, Colorado still has no felony law for people who rack up a series of drunken-driving convictions. The new DUI law, however, does require repeat offenders to be on probation for two years and enter alcohol-education and treatment programs.
Ritter signed other bills Tuesday designed to reduce Colorado’s prison population in favor of treatment and supervision alternatives, particularly for people convicted of possessing but not selling illegal drugs.
Illegally possessing less than 2 ounces of marijuana, for example, becomes a petty offense. People caught with more than 1 ounce previously faced first-degree misdemeanor charges.
The law also reduces potential prison time for possessing small amounts of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and illicit prescription drugs.
Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, wept as Ritter signed the drug bill and then handed her the pen.
She said it culminated a decade-long campaign to treat drug addiction as a disease, not a serious crime.
“This bill will save lives,” she said. “We have members who have OD’d and died, who weren’t able to get into treatment. I think of them today.”
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