New report offers insight on Colorado’s DUI offenses
The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice published a report earlier this month analyzing more than 27,000 driving under the influence (DUI) cases filed in Colorado in 2016. The report, the first of its kind in the nation, dives into a number of data points including offender demographics, toxicology reports, and subsequent charges and court proceedings.
The report comes as a result of House Bill 1315 passed in the Colorado General Assembly in 2017, directing the Colorado Department of Safety, Division of Criminal Justice to analyze types of DUI offenses being committed, and to issue an annual report. The results are backlogged one year to allow time for cases to be adjudicated.
In 2016 there were 27,244 cases filed in court with at least one DUI charge, including almost 1,150 within the 5th Judicial District, which includes Summit County. Summit County itself had 395 DUI cases. The worst offending areas were typically larger metropolitan areas, with the 18th Judicial District (Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, and Lincoln counties) reporting more than 4,300 DUI cases.
“It’s a huge focus for us,” said Colin Remillard, public information officer for the Colorado State Patrol’s Frisco post. “The culture around it is, we believe, that on any given night somebody out there is impaired in some degree operating a motor vehicle. Do you always find them? No. But that’s our mentality. We know it’s out there and so we’ve got to find it. I would say it’s a lot more common than people think.”
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Of those given a toxicology test (when alcohol is obviously present, officers often don’t request further testing due to costs and time) at least one drug was found in more than 99 percent of individuals. Alcohol was far and away the most common impairing substance, with 91.3 percent of individuals testing positive for alcohol alone. Marijuana impairment was a distant second with 6.2 percent testing positive for THC (the psychoactive constituent of marijuana) alone.
But polydrug use, or the detection of two or more drugs in a toxicology test, showed that 12.7 percent of cases involved more than one substance. Again, alcohol and marijuana were the most prominent inebriants, with 36.6 percent of polydrug offenders testing positive for both.
Perhaps more surprising is the distinct demographic differences in offenders. Men represent an overwhelming 74.5 percent of DUI cases. While the age of offenders ranged from 14-85, men in their 20s represent the largest group of offenders with more than 8,000, or just under 30 percent of the total cases. Men also account for almost 88 percent of defendants charged with a felony DUI, and are more likely to have a prior offense on their record. Of those with three or more prior offenses, more than 86 percent were men. Of those with one or two prior offenses, more than 76 percent were men.
Remillard said that the Colorado State Patrol doesn’t keep their own demographics of offenders in the area, but noted anecdotally that most of their DUI cases tend to lean male heavy, with offenders in their early to late 20s.
“We need to work together as a community to find a way to change our culture so that men in their 20s through 40s don’t get behind the wheel after drinking or taking drugs,” said Stan Hilkey, executive director of the Department of Public Safety. “I am confident that the data in this report will help inform public policy as well as educational campaigns targeted at changing this dangerous behavior.”
In total, more than a third of DUI offenders in 2016 had a prior DUI. But more disturbing is that 25.8 percent of defendants subject to a probation assessment (about 19,000 records from individuals who received drug treatment as a condition of their supervision) were involved in a crash, including 21 fatal accidents. In 2016, there were a total of 197 alcohol or drug related traffic fatalities in Colorado, or about a third of all traffic fatalities.
“That is why efforts by law enforcement to enforce our state’s DUI laws is so critical to safety on our roadways,” said Darrel Lingk, director of the Office of Transportation Safety at CDOT.
A large majority of DUI charges were actually misdemeanors. According to the report, of the 26,894 final DUI charges, less than 1,000 (3.7 percent) were classified as felonies. Aside from DUI and DWAI (driving while ability impaired), the most common charges associated with DUI case filings were careless driving (7,739 cases), lane usage violations (5,495) and failure to display proof of insurance (4,871).
While data on dispositions isn’t quite complete — only about 94 percent of DUI-related cases had reached disposition (judge’s ruling) at the time of the study — the outcomes of the cases is telling. More than 80 percent of individuals in cases were found guilty, almost 10 percent were outright dismissed, and less than one percent were found not guilty.
“The outcomes of the court cases show that our community takes DUI crimes seriously, and that there are serious consequences for driving under the influence,” continued Hilkey. “Yet despite these consequences, it is concerning that nearly 38 percent of defendants had prior DUI convictions.”
Efforts are already under way to help address the issue. As part of its 2018 “The Heat Is On” campaign, the Colorado Department of Transportation is introducing a program to incentivize the purchase of personal breathalyzers. Through a partnership with BACtrack, breathalyzers will be offered at a 50 percent discount until Sept. 15 in an effort to make drivers more aware of their blood alcohol content levels, and how long then need to wait until they are safe to drive.
“A lot of people do it here and there, and usually by the time they’ve got caught they’ve done it more than once,” said Remillard. “But it’s never worth it. You don’t want to hurt yourself; you don’t want to live with killing someone else. You certainly don’t want to deal with the consequences of being caught, and that’s probably the least negative of all the potential outcomes.”
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