This 2009 file photo shows Arapahoe County Deputy Sheriffs, Justin Osborn, right, and Beau Baggett, left, performing road side sobriety tests on a driver suspected of drunk driving in Centennial.
A law requiring anyone convicted of a felony DUI offense in Colorado to spend some time behind bars — even if they are granted a probationary sentence — goes into effect Wednesday, closing a loophole that has allowed some to avoid being locked up while others receive lengthy prison stints.
The legislation, passed by lawmakers earlier this year, requires felony drunken drivers to serve 90 to 180 days in jail if a judge decides to give them probation. If a work release program is available and is part of an offender’s sentence, that person is required to serve 120 days to two years in jail.
The Denver Post last year reviewed sentencing data on felony driving under the influence and found judges were handing out wildly different sentences for habitual drunken drivers, with about 8 percent of those defendants convicted of felony DUI receiving no incarceration time at all. Nearly 30 percent of the cases reviewed resulted in a prison sentence.
Colorado enacted a law in 2015 that made a fourth and all subsequent DUI offenses a felony. From that time to the end of last year, 635 people were convicted of the offense, which carries a possible prison sentence of two to six years. Of those, 490 were sentenced to jail and 170 were also sentenced to prison.
District attorneys have complained about the disparities, highlighting cases in which egregious drunken drivers were not sentenced to any time behind bars.
That includes the case of Doyle Carmack, who was granted probation in 2016 in Arapahoe County despite his sixth drunken-driving conviction. His blood-alcohol level in that arrest was later determined to be 0.235, nearly three times Colorado’s limit of .08, authorities said.
The new law also mandates that felony DUI offenders serve 48 to 120 hours of public service and that they cannot be released early from incarceration through sentence reductions.
The new sentencing provisions apply to DUI cases filed Wednesday or beyond.
The bill’s primary sponsors were Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, and Sen. Lois Court, D-Denver.