Guest opinion: Felony DUI bill is foolish and expensive
The proposed felony DUI bill is a foolish idea and will hurt Colorado, not help it.
We fear drunken driving. The fear is legitimate based on the possible tragic outcome of this behavior.
Psychologically, fear is followed by anger. That anger is directed toward the multiply convicted drinking driver.
Emotionally it is satisfying to lash out at the driver and it feels good to imagine such people being convicted of felonies and going to prison.
That’s why this legislation is likely to pass, because legislators know that a reptilian response to the things that cause us fear and anger are generally popular no matter how costly or ineffective.
We need to exercise our intelligence and oppose this bill.
Rationally it accomplishes nothing at great expense and will potentially make the problem worse.
The fundamental problem is getting tough on crime doesn’t work because being too lenient was not the cause of the problem.
Under current law if someone has multiple prior convictions such that they would be included in the new felony category, that person never thinks, “If I get a DUI tonight they are only going to put me in jail for a year, with no work release in Garfield County, put another year in jail over my head, take my driver’s license for five years, require any driving to be done with an ignition interlock device in my car, do 120 hours of useful public service, go to alcohol classes for a year, have my insurance canceled or rates go up astronomically for years, put me on supervised probation when I get out of jail for another year, take my job, ruin my ability to support my family or myself, and subject myself and my family to enormous embarrassment.
“Hey, if that’s all they’re going to do to me, I guess I’ll drive drunk tonight.”
Who really thinks that answer would be different if only that same behavior were a felony?
One of the arguments in favor of the punishment is that “at least they won’t be driving drunk in prison.” Unfortunately for that position there are studies which show the more punitive we are, the more likely the person is to reoffend with a new DUI.
Therefore, we are not making the community more safe with more punishment, we are ultimately making it less safe.
This makes sense when we understand that someone who goes to prison suffers an enormous loss of self-esteem, a reduction in responsibility, an alienation from the community, will be surrounded by unsuccessful people with antisocial attitudes, will make them largely unemployable and teach them to be a parasite on society. And now we expect they will be less likely to get drunk and drive?
The cost of the legislation is estimated to be up to $42 million. The real cost is far greater and the reward is nothing. This in a society that incarcerates more per capita than any other country on the planet, in a state that has spent more on incarceration than education.
You simply cannot punish your way into a better society.
The harsher we treat people the more harsh our society will be, but it won’t be improved.
We keep enhancing the power of the police and expecting this will not lead to the abuse of authority in a free society. We are seeing more of that abuse, and less trust of the police who are supposed to serve us.
We already see people plead guilty to charges they would contest but for the threat of overbearing consequences if we exercise our right to go to trial at great expense and risk.
It is a fallacy to state that many other states have felony DUI laws, therefore we should. The reality is that DUI is in decline, DUI offenses are down around 35 percent in Colorado from 2010 to 2014. The states that passed a felony DUI do not show a greater decline in DUIs than the states that didn’t.
For those who believe Colorado is too lenient, most states do not have a crime of “impaired driving” like Colorado does, which so broadly defines alcohol-impaired driving you could actually make the argument that if you lost some brain cells during your younger drinking years you are DWAI every time you get behind the wheel.
Also a DUI in Colorado is already a felony if you injure someone, or kill someone, or drive recklessly trying to avoid the police, or had your license revoked as a habitual traffic offender and are driving drunk.
What really works is public awareness, education, treatment and economic improvement.
Let’s pay for policies that work, not policies that pander to our fear and anger that cost millions with no effect except to make society worse.
Tom Silverman is a Glenwood Springs attorney.
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