The Denver Post
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday signed a bill into law to dramatically curb prosecutors' ability to charge juveniles as adults through the state's longstanding "direct file" system.
House Bill 1271 passed the legislature by wide margins and with bipartisan support but was still bitterly opposed by prosecutors and other law enforcement officials. Lawmakers from both parties split on the issue.
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said he struggled with whether to sign the bill but decided the wave of bipartisan support among lawmakers was hard to ignore.
"This is about as close as I've come to a veto without vetoing," he said. "At the end, I feel very comfortable with the decision."
He added, "I think especially in a split legislature that if a bill works its way through both sides, that's a powerful statement."
Kim Dvorchak, executive director of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition, said the law had "restored due process for youth to have judicial review before being tried as an adult."
But opponents of the bill, such as Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican, said Hickenlooper's signature was the wrong decision.
"Gov. Roy Romer and state lawmakers established Colorado's direct-file system in the early 1990s in response to an alarming and continuous increase in violent crime committed by juveniles," Suthers said in a statement. "Since then, prosecutors across the state have judiciously used the system to address the most serious, violent juvenile offenders who posed serious risks to the public safety. This new law not only ignores the lessons of history, but also the benefits of the direct-file system, including Colorado's Youthful Offender System, which has rehabilitated numerous juvenile offenders."
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said he was disappointed.
"It (the law) is a misguided attempt at reform that is actually a big step backwards, and I believe it will result in more juvenile direct-file cases," Morrissey said. "What is unfortunate is the impact, which is that it will hurt kids, waste money and risk public safety."
The bill bars district attorneys from charging juveniles as adults for many low and mid-level felonies, while raising the age at which young offenders may be charged as adults for more serious crimes from 14 to 16.
While the bill would allow prosecutors to charge young offenders as adults in cases of murder, violent sex offenses, kidnapping and violent assaults, it also would allow defendants to appeal to a district judge, who would have the final say on whether they are tried as adults.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
The Denver Post