The Colorado Fraternal Order of Police strongly supports HB 13-1214 concerning “Felony Offense for Repeat DUI Offenders”, and urges its passage. We thank Representative Mark Waller for bringing this necessary bill forward. It is a matter of public safety and good public policy.
Colorado is one of only five states that do not punish repeat drunken drivers with a felony charge. Simple DUI in Colorado is a misdemeanor as long as it does not involve accident or injury. When people commit DUI, get caught and don't learn from the consequences of their legal experience the first time; then hard treatment is needed to properly express societal disapproval and realistically impact the higher risk repeat DUI offender. The Fraternal Order of Police strongly believes that making a third drunk driving conviction in seven years, or a fourth conviction at any point in a lifetime, a serious felony offense. HB 13-1214 justifiably seeks to do just that. We believe that passage of this bill will send a strong message to not only DUI offenders, but also to the citizens of Colorado, that this state will no longer tolerate repeat DUI offenses and thus support preventable deaths and injuries in Colorado.
DUI is far from a victimless crime. The cost to society is tremendous both in dollars and lives ruined or lost. There is a horrible price paid by society for these criminal acts. According to professional estimates, sometime in their life approximately 30% of Americans will be in an accident involving alcohol; over 40% of all fatal automobile accidents are alcohol-related; one person is killed every half-hour due to drunk driving; each year approximately 16,000 people are killed in alcohol related crashes; someone is injured in an alcohol-related accident every two minutes; more than one-third of all fatal traffic accidents involve at least one person with a BAC over 0.08%; and about one-third of DUI convictions involve repeat offenders. If the established annual fatality rate is applied to 2012, it is estimated that nearly 11,000 people died last year as the result of DUI related accidents. Eventually we all pay in one way or another with increased insurance rates and health care costs.
There has been much focus by this year’s General Assembly on laws that recognize protecting the public’s safety from violent acts, and bills have been offered this year promoting solutions intended to save innocent lives in our state. This legislation creating harsh penalties on repeat DUI offenders is no different. Previous attempts in the General Assembly to make repeat DUI convictions a felony have failed on the premise that the cost associated with putting repeat DUI offenders in prison is too high, and therefore is not justified. We are hoping that will not be the case this session. As legislators you must ask yourselves is taxpayer cost an acceptable reason to deny justice for society and the victims of these acts? What is the true cost associated with repeat DUI offenders to society? How much longer will this state continue to place cost to the taxpayers above human life? Each individual legislator must decide this issue based on what is truly important to the well being of the citizens of Colorado and their districts.
The drunken driving population is among the most dangerous groups of people amongst us. Many never get caught so they do it again — and again and again. Every day they are out there, somewhere, prowling Colorado’s roadways, out of control and pushing more than a ton of steel down our roads. The same roads you and your loved ones travel daily. Driving drunk is like firing a gun into a crowded theater. Anyone can be your victim. On an average it is estimated a drunk driver drives 87 times while intoxicated before being pulled over. Until one day, they ruin lives. And as bad as it is to drive drunk, and as dangerous as drunk drivers are to all of us on the roads, the worst kind of drunk driver is the repeat offender.
There are hundreds of them out there putting you and your loved ones in danger every time you drive down the street. It is estimated that legally impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes are eight times more likely to have had a prior DUI conviction than drivers who had no prior conviction. While a single drunken-driving conviction is traumatic and expensive enough to sober up most drivers, according to the National Institutes of Health about one-third of all drunken-driver arrests are of people who are repeating their crime.
These repeat offenders are alcoholics, and they have serious substance abuse problems. These criminals have proven time and again they will continue to reoffend. They have refused (or taken seriously) prior attempts at rehabilitation, and they are dangerous. Arrests, fines, convictions—nothing seems enough to stop these serial drunk drivers. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunken drivers continue to drive on a suspended license. Suspending their licenses, mandatory alcohol classes, and court ordered rehabilitation may deter some, but research indicates that about three out of every four keep driving drunk anyway.
Someone that has that type of problem is generally beyond societal correction. We cannot change that type of behavior. If someone doesn't learn it after the first time then they have got a problem beyond legal constrictions. In the end, from prosecutor to judge and police officer to defense attorney, we agree on one thing: There's no quick fix to ensure career DUI offenders won't climb behind the wheel drunk. To these criminals it just doesn't matter. Until the time arrives that they have hit their bottom and decide to make meaningful change in their lives, or they kill themselves or others, they are going to get into their vehicle and drive drunk regardless. And in doing so, they have more than earned the harsh treatment that this change in law will bring. Justice for the society in these cases must mean harsh punishment for the perpetrator.
Whether increasing the penalty will actually have a deterrent effect is a matter of speculation. It would seem that some people, if they think they can get away with something, will try, no matter the consequences. To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice. It is a crime of moral turpitude. These people see the right thing to do as being what benefits them, and the wrong thing to do as someone else's problem. It is a situation that reveals a shameful lack of humanity and morality dictated by addiction. Hard treatment is needed to properly express societal disapproval. The severity of the punishment should be commensurate with the seriousness of the crime.
With passage of HB 13-1214 those repeat offenders won't have the opportunity to avoid prison time because of their decision to willfully disobey the law. It is for these and other compelling reasons that Colorado’s largest organization of line law enforcement officers, the FOP, supports passage of this bill.