Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

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.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

It's Time To Repeal the Death Penalty in Colorado

Action Needed before Noon on Tues, March 19th

Sponsors:  Senators Guzman (D), M. Carroll (D) and Representatives Levy (D), Melton (D), Priola (R)
CCJRC is part of the statewide coalition led by Coloradans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Foundation in support of House Bill 13-1264.
We urge CCJRC members to add their voice and effort to help make Colorado the 19th state in the country to abolish the death penalty.  In doing so, Colorado would join Maryland which last week became the sixth state in six years to pass legislation ending capital punishment.  
In 2009, a bill to repeal the death penalty in Colorado passed the House of Representatives (by one vote) but was defeated in the Senate (by one vote).   We need to make sure that doesn’t happen again!

Action Needed before noon on Tues, March 19, 2013

CHAIR: Rep. Daniel Kagan (D) (HD 3-Arapahoe): 303-866-2921 repkagan@gmail.com
VICE-CHAIR: Rep. Pete Lee (D) (HD 18-El Paso):303-866-2932 pete.lee.house@state.co.us
Rep. John Buckner (D) (HD 40-Arapahoe): 303-866-2944 john.buckner.house@state.co.us
Rep. Lois Court (D) (HD 6-Denver): 303-866-2967 lois.court.house@state.co.us
Rep. Bob Gardner (R) (HD 20-El Paso): 303-866-2191 bob.gardner.house@state.co.us
Rep. Polly Lawrence (R) (HD 39-Douglas, Teller):303-866-2935 polly.lawrence.house@state.co.us
Rep. Mike McLachlan (D) (HD59-La Plata, Archuleta, Gunnison, Ouray, Hinsdale, San Juan):
Rep. Carole Murray (R) (HD 45-Douglas): 303-866-2948 murrayhouse45@gmail.com
Rep. Brittany Pettersen (D) (HD 28-Jefferson): 303-866-2939 brittany.pettersen.house@state.co.us
Rep. Joe Salazar (D) (HD 31-Adams): 303-866-2918 joseph.salazar.house@state.co.us
Rep. Jared Wright (R) (HD 54-Mesa, Delta): 303-866-2583 jared.wright.house@state.co.us

As fellow human beings, when a person is murdered we grieve for the victim and their loved ones.  We pray that they find strength and peace and that they are surrounded by love, compassion, and support.  Some will also pray for the person who committed the murder and their devastated loved ones.  The ripple effect of trauma and suffering is incalculable.
When the death penalty is sought and imposed it is done so in the name of The People of the State of Colorado.  For most of us, we have an opinion one-way-or-the-other but we’re removed from the process and go about our lives largely unaffected.

However, having the death penalty requires that some people be active participants in the “machinery of death”– regular people sitting as jurors will have their lives invaded by the responsibility of deciding who lives and who dies -- defense attorneys will fight to the core of their existence to keep their client alive, whether s/he is guilty or not – and medical and prison staff who must perform the execution are turned into killers. This is what we require of some people because The People of the State of Colorado have the death penalty.  So, the ripple effect of trauma and suffering expands….

HB13-1264 would repeal the death penalty as a sentencing option in future cases. This is our opportunity to say, Not In My Name, as part of the community that is The People of the State of Colorado.

The death penalty will never be consistently or fairly applied.  
Colorado has executed 103 people since 1859.  A 102 of them were executed before the US Supreme Court struck down almost all state death penalty laws in 1972, including Colorado’s. Our last execution was in 1997.  There are currently three men on death row in Colorado.  All three are African-American and all were convicted in Arapahoe County’s 18th Judicial District. A University of Denver law school study found that 92% of Colorado’s first-degree murder cases between 1999 and 2010 met the criteria for a death sentence.  However, prosecutors sought a death sentence in only 3 percent of the cases and a death sentence was imposed in only 0.6 percent of cases. http://www.denverpost.com/commented/ci_22793170?IADID=Search-www.denverpost.com-www.denverpost.com#2928675

We don’t need the death penalty to serve the ends of justice
If the death penalty is repealed, a person convicted of first degree murder would be sentenced to life in prison without parole.   According to the Coloradans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Foundation, in Colorado, it costs 20 times as much to prosecute a capital murder case as it costs to prosecute a first degree murder case where the death penalty is not sought. This does not include the cost of hearing appeals that can stretch for years and even decades.

Executing an innocent person is a risk we can completely avoid doing again
Several people executed in Colorado avowed their innocence – although it is impossible to know if that’s true.  However, in 2011 then-Governor Bill Ritter granted a full and unconditional posthumous pardon to a severely developmentally disabled man, Joe Arridy, who was executed in 1939.  Governor Ritter stated in his press release that he granted the pardon on the basis that there was a great likelihood that he was innocent and that although a pardon wouldn’t undo this tragic event, “[i]t is  in the interests of justice and simple decency, however, to restore his good name.”
Two other men know the fallible of the criminal justice system all too well.  Tim Masters was convicted in 1999 in Ft. Collins of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.  His conviction was vacated and he was exonerated in 2011 based on evidence indicating that he was innocent of the crime.  Similarly, Robert Dewey was convicted in 1996 in Grand Junction of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. His conviction was vacated in 2012 based on evidence that proved his innocence.

It’s time to stop tinkering with the machinery of death
In the effort to have “humane” executions, the method of execution has changed from hanging, to asphyxiation in a gas chamber, to lethal injection.  Court decisions have deemed unconstitutional the execution of juveniles or those who are severely developmentally disabled.
In order to address concerns about “unfairness” and “inconsistency”, the decision to impose a life or death sentence was changed by the Colorado legislature in 1995 from a unanimous vote of the jury to a three-judge panel. The three-judge panel law was deemed unconstitutional by the Colorado Supreme Court in 2003 and the three death sentences that had been imposed by a panel of judges were all converted to life sentences.
US Supreme Court Justice, Harry A. Blackmun, a life-long Republican and conservative jurist dissented in the opinion in 1972 that invalidated capital punishment (Furman v. Georgia) and voted to reinstate the death penalty in 1976 (Gregg v. Georgia). In 1994, shortly before his retirement from the US Supreme Court, Justice Blackmun announced that he now believed that the death penalty was unconstitutional, in all circumstances.

``From this day forward, I no longer will tinker with the machinery of
death.  For more than 20 years I have endeavored -- indeed, I have
struggled, along with a majority of this Court -- to develop procedural
and substantive rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of
fairness to the death penalty endeavor...  Rather than continue to coddle
the Court's delusion that the desired level of fairness has been
achieved and the need for regulation eviscerated, I feel morally and
intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty
experiment has failed.  It is virtually self-evident to me now that no
combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save
the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies.  The
basic question -- does the system accurately and consistently determine
which defendants `deserve' to die?  -- cannot be answered in the
affirmative...  The problem is that the inevitability of factual, legal,
and moral error gives us a system that we know must wrongly kill some
defendants, a system that fails to deliver the fair, consistent and
reliable sentences of death required by the Constitution.''
-- Supreme Court Justice Harry A.  Blackmun (1994)
For more information:
History of the Death Penalty in Colorado, by University of Colorado Professor Michael Radelet http://pdweb.coloradodefenders.us/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=151&Itemid=103
Coloradans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Foundation http://www.coadp.org/
National Coalition Against the Death Penalty http://www.ncadp.org/

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