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Update: Felony DUI bill's dead and ACLU says that was the right call

Update: Earlier this week, we reported about legislation that would have established a felony DUI law in Colorado, as well as the arguments in favor of the bill made by Mother's Against Drunk Driving; see our previous coverage below.

In the end, however, the measure fell short, and a representative of Colorado's ACLU affiliate believes that was the right call -- because, in the organization's view, felony DUI laws are ineffective.

Denise Maes, the ACLU's public-policy director, doesn't want anyone to think the ACLU shrugs off the seriousness of the issue. "I want to underscore that I totally understand the cause that the sponsors of the bill were trying to address," she says. "Drunk driving on our city streets and state highways is clearly a problem. But nationwide, we have seen that felony DUI bills are not the answer."

Why not?

"We don't see any fewer drunk-driving arrests or accidents in states that have felony DUI laws compared to those that don't," Maes replies.

That's not to mention the expense. Indeed, the bill died in the Senate Appropriations committee, where the high price of switching DUIs from misdemeanors to felonies was highlighted.

Not that cost was the primary motivator for the ACLU's opposition. "If it's not money well-spent -- if it's not effective in solving the problem -- we're better off diverting those resources into areas that are more effective."

In her view, "there's a lot more the state can do to curtail drunk driving as opposed to criminalizing the issue." She cites as examples increased emphasis on treatment, more checkpoints intended to identify drunk drivers before they can harm anyone and targeted investigations aimed at bars with a record of allowing customers to drink excessively and then climb behind the wheel.

Most states have felony DUI bills on the books, and despite those damning stats, Maes doesn't expect a slew of repeals, since it would be easy for political opponents to make legislators who take such a step look soft on drunk driving. "But just because a majority have these laws doesn't make them good public policy," she argues. "Just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean it's a good answer."

With the bill dead and the session in the books, Maes is hopeful that other solutions can be found. "We'd like to get together with other relevant stakeholders, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, victims-rights advocates and law enforcement, and craft something that makes a little more sense," she says.

Continue for our previous coverage, including photos and MADD statistics.

Original post, 8:50 a.m. May 5: Against the backdrop of shocking cases like Alton Kirkland's alleged hit-and-run this weekend, which is suspected to have been alcohol-related, Mothers Against Drunk Driving is lobbying hard on behalf of House Bill 14-1036, which would create a felony DUI law in Colorado -- one of just four states that don't have such legislation on the books, MADD maintains.

In a letter to Senate President Morgan Carroll, MADD National President Jan Withers presents a slew of stats to bolster her argument in favor of the legislation (which has already passed the state House), including organization numbers from 2011-2012 about deaths, arrests, costs and more. Continue to see the photo-illustrated figures, as well as Withers's letter and the bill.

Drunk driving fatalities (.08 BAC or higher): 133 in 2012, representing 28% of all total traffic deaths

Note: This total marks a 17 percent decrease from the previous year.

DUI arrests: 25,385 in 2012 DUI refusals (the number of people who refused to submit to a blood, breath or urine test): 7,309 in 2012 Continue for more drunk-driving-related figures about Colorado, plus two original documents. Taxpayer subsidy of drunk driving fatalities: $704 million in 2012 Alcohol use in past month among persons aged 12 to 20: 32.80% in 2011 Alcohol use in past month among persons aged 12 to 20: 188,000 in 2011 Continue for more drunk-driving-related figures about Colorado, plus two original documents. Binge alcohol use in past month among persons aged 12 to 20: 21.40% in 2011 Binge alcohol use in past month among persons aged 12 to 20: 123,000 in 2011

Look below to read the MADD letter about Colorado HB 14-1036, as well as the bill itself.

MADD Letter Re: Colorado HB 14-1036

Colorado HB 14-1036

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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