- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. (AP) - Repeat DUI offenders will face tougher penalties in Colorado with a bill signed into law Monday by Gov. John Hickenlooper as families of victims of drunk drivers looked on.

Before the measure was signed, Colorado was among five states where habitual drunken drivers face only misdemeanor charges punishable by up to a year in jail regardless of how many convictions they have.

The new law, which takes effect Aug. 5, makes a fourth DUI a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of as much as $500,000.

Hickenlooper said drivers deserve a second chance if they make a mistake, but added that “if they can’t control their behavior, if they can’t restrain themselves and they’re putting the rest of the people at risk, we’ve gotta put them in jail.”

The proposal failed several times in recent years because of concerns about increased costs to courts and prisons. Lawmakers were able to pass it last month, helped by the fact that Hickenlooper noted the bill as a priority in his State of the State speech in January.

The bill signing ceremony was held at a manufacturer of professional breath alcohol testers in Wheat Ridge. After the signing, Hickenlooper posed for photos with families who had relatives injured or killed by drunk drivers.

Among them was Blanca Palomino, who lost her 17-year-old son, Juan Carlos Dominguez Palomino, in a crash last year in Aurora involving a driver who had multiple DUI convictions.

Palomino, 43, held a photo of her son during the bill signing.

“I’m sad because I know that my son won’t return with the signature of the governor, and I’m happy because I know this will save the lives of many youth,” she said in Spanish.

Also at the ceremony was Frank Martinez, whose nephew and two grand-nephews were killed in January. According to authorities, they were struck by a drunken driver with eight prior DUI arrests.

Gilbert Martinez, 37, and his sons, Ethan, 6, and Bryson 1, were on their way home from church when they were killed in the Weld County crash.

Frank Martinez said after the signing that the stricter penalties should’ve been in place years ago. If that had been the case, he said, perhaps the crash that took his relatives’ lives wouldn’t have happened.

“But I can’t be frustrated about what happened to us,” he said. “All I could do is try to help change this for other future families and that’s what this whole process is all about for us.”

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Find Ivan Moreno on Twitter: https://twitter.com/IvanJourno

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