While many of the cases I handle are truly accidents – good people who make a mistake on the road – DUI accidents involve someone who chose to drink and chose to drive. For those people, I have little sympathy and I consider it a personal mission to make sure that they and their insurance company pay for every cent that their victim deserves. But there is a big difference between
- Prosecuting the drunk driver for his or her criminal behavior, and
- Securing money from the insurance companies for the victim of the drunk driving accident.
On the criminal side (which is the district attorney’s job, not mine), people often ask me, “Is a DUI a felony?” It sure seems like it should be, given the sometimes tragic results of DUI accidents, but the answer to this question may surprise you.
In this article, I’m going to bust some myths,share some information about drunk driving and answer the question: “is a DUI a felony.”
Until very recently, Colorado was one of only a handful of states where repeat DUI offenders received only a misdemeanor charge.
Is a DUI a Felony?
Colorado has two levels of alcohol-related driving offenses:
- Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs (DUI): the limit for drivers under 21 years old is .02% and the limit for drivers over 21 is .08%.
- Driving While Ability is Impaired (DWAI): the limit is .05%.
Until very recently – August 5, 2015 to be exact – Colorado was one of only a handful of states where repeat DUI offenders received only a misdemeanor charge with maximum punishment of one year in jail. Now in Colorado, the fourth drunk driving charge is treated as a felony and is punishable by up to six years in prison. And that’s four charges in a lifetime. So, if a person is charged with a DUI in his 20s and doesn’t get his fourth DUI until he’s 60, he is still facing felony charges. So, yes, a DUI can be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on how many DUIs the person has previously had.
But can you imagine being the victim in that driver’s fourth DUI? How would you feel knowing that driver was allowed back on the road three previous times after driving under the influence? I still think the law is too lenient.
Here are the other penalties that DUI drivers face in Colorado:
- DWAI 1st Offense: 8 points toward license suspension; $200 to $500 fine; up to 180 days in jail; up to 48 hours community service.
- DUI 1st Offense: Administrative license revocation for 9 months; $600 to $1,000 fine; up to 1 year in jail; up to 96 hours community service; alcohol education.
- DUI/DWAI 1st offense under 21 years old: Drivers license suspended 3 months and 4 points added to driving record.
If you are the victim of a drunk driving accident, you need to hire an attorney as soon as possible. As I explained above, the district attorney will immediately begin prosecuting the drunk driver for his or her criminal actions, but that will have zero to do with your case. You will need help fighting for your rights against the driver’s insurance company (and possibly your own insurance company, too).
Don’t allow yourself to be victimized again by the other driver’s insurance company.
A Recent Drunk Driving Case We Handled
You won’t believe this story.
We recently represented a man who was stopped in his car on 17th Avenue one night and was hit from behind by a drunk driver. But the story doesn’t end there. This driver was so drunk that she tried to flee the scene by backing up and, in her efforts to escape, she hit our client three more times! Then she hit a parked car and was finally stopped when she hit a road sign.
Now, you might think this is a cut-and-dry case, but DUI cases are rarely so.
Our client was hurt, but the drunk driver’s insurance company offered barely enough of a settlement to cover his medical bills.
You may ask, “If it covers his bills, why isn’t that enough?” And I will tell you that there is more at stake in a DUI case. I don’t get on my high horse very often, but I do when it comes to DUI cases. It’s about justice.
In the state of Colorado, if you are hit by a drunk driver (or anyone who was driving with “reckless disregard for the safety of others”), you can claim triple the normal damages. And you should. Driving under the influence is a criminal offense, deserving of punishment – whether it be a felony or misdemeanor.
So, in the case of our client, we sued the DUI driver, and, finally, her insurance company turned around and gave our client the max that he could receive. I would argue that, because of the nature of the accident and the victim’s rights under the law, they should have made that offer first, not after being threatened with litigation.
You won’t hear me say this often, but it’s really about justice. Drunk driving is a criminal offense. If you are ever the victim in a drunk driving accident, don’t allow yourself to be victimized again by the other driver’s insurance company.
Of course, the best way to avoid drunk drivers is to learn to spot them on the road…
What to Do if the Driver in Front of You is Drunk Driving
We’ve all seen people on the road whom we think are drunk driving, but I doubt you’ve ever categorized the reasons you can tell someone is driving drunk, right? Well, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did just that! They divided the indicators of a drunk driver into four categories:
- Problems in maintaining proper lane position
- Speed and braking problems
- Vigilance problems
- Judgment problems
Let me expand on some of those…
- Swerving: A driver swerving in and out of their lane is a common sight. In some cases, the swerving may be due to a dropped phone or spilled cup of coffee, and hopefully no harm comes of it. But a driver who consistently drifts out of his lane, or swerves from one lane to the next is likely drunk, and best avoided. Impaired drivers may start to drift out of their lane position and then quickly try to swerve back into position.
- Sudden braking: Another tell-tale sign of impairment is sudden braking. The driver may seem to be over-compensating. For example, an obstacle that would cause a sober driver to merely slow down makes a drunk driver slam on the brakes, sometimes coming to a complete stop on a high-speed road. Drunk drivers may also drive far too slowly for the posted speed limit, normal flow of traffic, and weather conditions. And some drive far too fast with all thoughts of safety lost in a fog of alcohol.
- Signal and headlight issues: A driver with vigilance problems due to alcohol impairment may forget to turn on the headlights at night. They may leave their turn signals on or may turn without using their signals at all. They may go the wrong way on streets, and may not leave enough space or time for maneuvering their car at a left turn or across traffic.
I’m the Victim of a Drunk Driver
If you’re the victim of a drunk driving case, or if you’ve wondered, “Is a DUI a felony?” Call me. DUI accident cases can be very confusing. Just remember: it is not the DA’s job to help the drunk driving victim in the accident. The DA’s job is to punish the bad guy.
If you have been the victim in a drunk driving accident and you have questions, call me. There’s no charge to discuss your case!
Why you should not use social media after an accident — Even if it wasn’t your fault, you’ll cringe when you hear how the other insurance company will troll your accounts and use innocent things against you.
What Insurance Companies don’t Want You to Know — Even your own insurance company cannot be trusted to keep your best interests at heart.