Driving-under-the-influence statistics from the Colorado District Attorney 22nd Judicial District, and for Montezuma and Dolores counties, show that drinking and driving continues to be a big concern.
Drivers who get behind the wheel after having had too much to drink and get pulled over by police in Colorado will not ever be charged with a felony, be it their first, second or 10th offense.
Because all DUIs in the state of Colorado are misdemeanors, the most time a person could spend in jail for this crime, if there is no accident or fatality, is one year in jail for repeat offenders.
Other DUI-related incidents involving injury or fatal accidents could be or are felony charges.
From January 1 to June 8 of this year 91 drivers in the 22nd Judicial District were arrested and convicted for a DUI, which averages out to 220 a year.
If the numbers and averages remain the same for the year 2012, this would be a good year when compared to previous years numbers.
In 2011, there were 288 DUI convictions, which was 71 more than 2010, but in 2009, 272 drivers were convicted of DUI, and another 290 motorists were convicted for this offense in 2008.
Montezuma County Sheriffs Office statistics for DUI arrests for drugs or alcohol were higher than the numbers from the Colorado District Attorney 22nd Judicial District, but Sgt. Travis Anderson explained that the sheriffs office numbers for the entire county were for arrests only.
In 2010, there were 436 DUI arrests in the county and that number increased to 486 in 2011. So far in 2012, another 226 people have been arrested for driving under the influence in Montezuma County.
Statistics from the Cortez Police Department show there were 120 DUI arrests with three accidents in 2009, while in 2010 there were 76 DUI arrests with 14 accidents and 64 DUIs with 19 accidents in 2011.
So far in 2012, Cortez Police report that there have been 22 DUI arrests with four accidents.
Since 2009, statewide filings for driving under the influence and driving while ability impaired have dropped by 5,462 cases, or 17.4 percent, to 26,010 cases, and the number of DUI/DWAI cases filed in Denver County dropped by more than 1,200 over the past three years.
The law enforcement side
Statistics from the Cortez Police Department also show that Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 1 and 4 a.m. are the times when most DUI arrests occur.
Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane said his officers know what to look for to determine if a driver could be driving while under the influence.
He said drivers weaving and not turning on their headlights at night are clues to motorists driving under the influence, which will result in a traffic stop.
Lane also said another tip for officers is when vehicles are travelling well below the posted speed limit.
Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell said he is not surprised at the number of DUIs occurring in the area.
Am I surprised? No, Spruell said. I am disappointed that people still drink and drive.
He said taking drunk drivers off the road is part of the job, and added if more officers are needed he would look into more staffing.
We deal with it, Spruell said while talking about time his deputies spend on DUI stops. Our responsibility is to keep the community safe, and DUIs are part of that.
The sheriffs office does not conduct many DUI checkpoints, he said; instead it relies on residents calling them about possible impaired drivers, or deputies observations.
While a DUI arrest can occur at any time, Spruell said weekends past 2 a.m. is when more drivers get behind the wheel after having too much to drink.
When I was elected sheriff I promised firm, fair law enforcement, and that includes taking drunks off the road, he said. My deputies are not shy in doing that.
District Attorney Russell Wasley said, Colorado has no felony DUI law or aggravated or extreme driving under the influence law.
For example, Nevada law mandates at least a one-year prison term for a third DUI conviction.
First-time DUI offenders in Colorado would receive a jail sentence of five days to one year in jail, but the normal five-day sentence is almost always suspended, Wasley said.
Part of the sentence usually includes 48 to 96 hours of community service and up to two years of probation.
When someone is convicted of DUI, an ignition interlock device is also required to be placed on the persons vehicle. This requires drivers to blow into a device to prove there is no alcohol in their system. The vehicle will not start if alcohol is detected.
Under Colorado law, an ignition interlock device is required if a drivers license was revoked because of a conviction of an alcohol-related driving offense.
Since January 2009, Colorado has required interlocks for first-time offenders with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or greater who want to drive anytime within the required nine months of having their privileges revoked.
All repeat and high-BAC offenders 0.17 percent or higher are required to have ignition interlocks for at least two years after their licenses are restored.
The devices are not cheap, said Ryan Buffington, who with his father, owns Main Interlock LLC Cortez.
The fee for the first month is $200 and $80 a month thereafter. The business now has 100 to 110 clients. He said DUI offenders will sometimes decide to not drive and will rely on other methods to get around.
It depends how many want a drivers license to go to work, he said.
Buffington, whose clients come from the Four Corners region, said the courts decide how long a person should have the device installed on their vehicle, adding there have been times when the contract was for six years.
He said this consequence gives peace of mind to residents who do not drink and drive, while at the same time providing a deterrent for those who chose to drink and drive.
He also said the ignition interlock device automatically transmits a failed DUI test to authorities.
One of the goals of the device, he said, is to discourage drivers to not drink and drive ever again.
For a motorist with a blood-alcohol content of .20, or two and a half times the legal limit, the jail sentence is 10 days to one year and the 10-day presumptive sentence cannot be suspended.
A motorist who registers a blood-alcohol content of .08 or above within two hours of driving gives officers an inference that the driver is guilty of a DUI. A blood-alcohol content of .05 to .0799 allows for an arrest for being impaired.
However, if a person registers less than a .05 on either the Breathalyzer or a blood test, the driver must be deemed to not be impaired in any way.
Wasley, who said he sees repeat offenders all the time, said there are different statutes and different punishments.
Besides the typical DUI, there is a statute that is called driving while ability is impaired or DWAI which could involve alcohol or drugs, and this too is a misdemeanor.
DUI is defined as driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two that affects the person to a degree that he or she is substantially incapable to exercise clear judgment to use due care to safely operate a motor vehicle.
While Wasley said any DUI is a misdemeanor in Colorado, a driver stopped with methamphetamines in his or her system can be charged with a class 4 felony on top of the misdemeanor DUI charge.
A DWAI is defined in the same way as a DUI with one notable difference as motorists can be charged under this statute if the use of alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two affects the driver to a slightest degree while operating a motor vehicle and registering a BAC of .05 to .079.
Felony DUI and repeat offenders
The current district attorney said he would and has supported a felony DUI law for repeat offenders for those with a third offense in hopes that it would provide a stronger deterrent, but the state Legislature has never discussed taking this action.
Wasley said the DUI law for repeat offenders was amended in 2010, but the crime remains a misdemeanor, and a second conviction within five years would include a sentence of 10 days to one year in jail and two to four years probation and the 10 days cannot be suspended or shortened and must be served on consecutive days.
I believe a felony DUI law would be a stronger deterrent, Wasley said, stressing that he is not talking about first-time offenders but people with multiple DUI convictions who are obviously not getting the message.
The Colorado State Legislature needs to address that, he said.
Wasley added Colorado is only one of four states that does not have a felony DUI law so a repeat offender, cannot be sent to prison.
The district attorney said there are many reasons why people engage in drinking and driving but said there is not a valid reason or any good excuse.
He said when a person gets behind the wheel after drinking he or she places every other citizen in danger.
Wasley said drinking and driving cannot be classified as a mistake because it is a crime, but added a first-time offender who can be rehabilitated is just a small part of the problem.
There is no number 1 answer (why they drink and drive), but they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if they do it, Wasley said.
Reach Michael Maresh at firstname.lastname@example.org