ASPEN - It used to be that a person arrested for driving under the influence in Colorado on a repeat offense could spend as few as six days in jail.
But now, it's different. In what Aspen defense lawyer Dan Shipp called "fairly substantial changes," a bill signed by Gov. Bill Ritter requires judges to impose a full sentence of at least 10 days for second-time offenders and at least 60 days for third-time and subsequent offenders.
"That's huge," said Lauren Maytin, who runs the Aspen-based Law Office of Lauren R. Maytin.
Previously, the standard time for someone who had offended three or more times was 60 days, but the judge could waive 54 of those days. Many of them regularly exercised that freedom, Maytin said, noting it is important for judges to use discretion.
They don't have that anymore.
The rule comes on the heels of intense scrutiny from lawmakers after The Denver Post published an investigation last year that showed many repeat offenders get off the hook with no repercussions.
But Maytin said in certain circumstances, a DUI offender shouldn't have to serve the full 60 days.
"I think people will be doing a lot more jail time," she said. "I don't think that's always necessary."
She posed the scenario of a 70-year-old person who was arrested for drunk driving 50 years prior having a couple of glasses of wine and getting behind the wheel and getting pulled over.
"I think that's a scenario where the judge can look at that and say, 'You'll do 10 days,'" and maybe the remaining 50 days on electronic surveillance, she said. "And, again, this is on two glasses of wine."
Richard Nedlin, a Pitkin County deputy district attorney, disagreed, saying the new rules are not too harsh, given the egregious nature of the consequences of drunk driving.
"The Legislature has determined that drastic measures need to be taken. ... Hopefully when the word gets out that those are the consequences, people will decide not to [drive drunk]," he said.
DUI arrests in Aspen have steadily increased over the last four years. In 2006, police logged 66; in 2007, it was 92; in 2008, it was 101; and in 2009, it was 135, according to police.
Through May 26 of this year, there have been 55 arrests, compared to the 42 tallied during the same period last year, and 32 in 2008.
But while arrests may be going up, convictions are a different matter; city and county officials say there is no way to immediately tabulate how many actual convictions there have been in the last year.
Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said police attribute the increase in arrests to a larger and younger patrol staff that has formed over the last few years at the Aspen Police Department; younger officers typically spend more time on the road, Pryor said, resulting in a higher number of traffic stops, and, in turn, more DUI arrests.
"It's an easier activity to get the grips with," he said, adding: "We haven't put a mandate out for people to go out and search for DUI arrests."
The Denver Post found that of the 32,000 people who were arrested for drunk driving in 2009 in Colorado, 16 percent had prior DUI offenses.
The city offers a number of drunk driving alternatives, such as free bus rides and a bar voucher system for a special taxi service called Tipsy Taxi operated through the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office in which a person in need of a ride presents a voucher to police, and the driver is reimbursed.