DENVER — A House committee on Tuesday killed a bill that would have made people convicted of serious crimes as juveniles eligible for parole after serving 40 years in prison.
Loved ones of people convicted and sentenced to life in prison as juveniles and families of homicide victims opened their hearts in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Some of the witnesses are inextricably linked by the same crimes.
In 2006, the Legislature ended a 1991 law that created life sentences without parole for juveniles. But 48 people in Colorado are serving sentences of more than 40 years or life in prison without parole for crimes committed during the 15-year window before the change in laws.
Under HB1287, the juveniles convicted during that time would be eligible for parole after serving 40 calendar years.
The judiciary committee killed HB1287 on a 6-5 vote, despite its bipartisan sponsorship by two members of the committee, Reps. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, and B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland.
The bill’s sponsorship all but guaranteed its passage out of the committee if the vote had broken down along party lines. But Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, voted with Republicans to spike it.
She cited questions about its constitutionality raised by the attorney general’s office.
“I’m not going to give up on those 48 offenders,” said Duran, a lawyer. “The reason why I voted against the bill is because I think there needs to be work done to reach out to all of the stakeholders and have a less divisive process.”
She also would like to see a ruling from the Supreme Court on whether the Legislature has the authority to change sentences retroactively, or whether that would represent overstepping the General Assembly’s authority and encroaching on the governor’s right to commute sentences.
Deputy Attorney General Michael Dougherty testified that the answer to that question is murky, and that if the bill became law, it was likely to face challenges from victims’ advocates, victims’ families or district attorneys.
“I would like to see an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court,” Duran said. “Based on the divisiveness I saw here (Tuesday), I’m convinced there will be a constitutional challenge even if a bill like this was to get through the Legislature.”