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Revisiting Colorado’s felony DUI law five years later

Legislation that enacted felony drunk driving crimes were hailed by many groups in Michigan. From Mothers Against Drunk Driving to the Foundation to Advance Alcohol Responsibility, new and more severe consequences for driving under the influence (DUI) was welcome news.

In 2015, Colorado legislators passed a bill to create a felony-level offense for those with at least three driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while ability impaired (DWAI) convictions in their criminal history. The legislation mandated more severe penalties. Guilty or not guilty rulings by a judge would be based on sufficient evidence that would result in a felony conviction, an enhanced crime.

A ruling creating uncertainty

The state Supreme Court recently ruled that all factors involved in the felony DUI crime must be held to the standard of “proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” Their directive in Linnebur v. People saw them send back similar convictions for reconsideration by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Following that decision, the appellate judges’ ruling reversed multiple felony drunk driving convictions by the end of 2020.

Both criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors are concerned about the reversal’s impact. The Michigan high court’s ruling would potentially allow evidence of prior convictions, swaying the jurors’ opinions if testimony reveals previous drunk driving patterns. Also cited as problematic is the lack of direction when it comes to moving forward with a retrial.

The state Supreme Court did not address those options in their earlier ruling, leaving the Court of Appeals with no other option other than to return cases for rulings by trial court judges. Concerns surround the possibility that a second trial could violate defendants’ Fifth Amendment rights against being charged more than once for the same felony crime.

When laws and their applications are in flux, the help of a skilled, experienced, and knowledgeable DUI attorney is paramount to protect rights and pursue the best possible outcome.

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