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.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

As Federal Crime List Grows, Threshold of Guilt Declines

For centuries, a bedrock principle of criminal law has held that people must know they are doing something wrong before they can be found guilty. The concept is known as mens rea, Latin for a "guilty mind."

This legal protection is now being eroded as the U.S. federal criminal code dramatically swells. In recent decades, Congress has repeatedly crafted laws that weaken or disregard the notion of criminal intent. Today not only are there thousands more criminal laws than before, but it is easier to fall afoul of them.
As a result, what once might have been considered simply a mistake is now sometimes punishable by jail time. When the police came to Wade Martin's home in Sitka, Alaska, in 2003, he says he had no idea why. Under an exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, coastal Native Alaskans such as Mr. Martin are allowed to trap and hunt species that others can't. That included the 10 sea otters he had recently sold for $50 apiece.

Mr. Martin, 50 years old, readily admitted making the sale. "Then, they told me the buyer wasn't a native," he recalls.
The law requires that animals sold to non-Native Alaskans be converted into handicrafts. He knew the law, Mr. Martin said, and he had thought the buyer was Native Alaskan.
He pleaded guilty in 2008. The government didn't have to prove he knew his conduct was illegal, his lawyer told him. They merely had to show he had made the sale.
"I was thinking, damn, my life's over," Mr. Martin says.
Federal magistrate Judge John Roberts gave him two years' probation and a $1,000 fine. He told the trapper: "You're responsible for the actions that you take."
Mr. Martin now asks customers to prove their heritage and residency. "You get real smart after they come to your house and arrest you and make you feel like Charles Manson," he says.
The U.S. Attorney's office in Alaska didn't respond to requests for comment.
Back in 1790, the first federal criminal law passed by Congress listed fewer than 20 federal crimes. Today there are an estimated 4,500 crimes in federal statutes, plus thousands more embedded in federal regulations, many of which have been added to the penal code since the 1970s.
One controversial new law can hold animal-rights activists criminally responsible for protests that cause the target of their attention to be fearful, regardless of the protesters' intentions. Congress passed the law in 2006 with only about a half-dozen of the 535 members voting on it.
Under English common law principles, most U.S. criminal statutes traditionally required prosecutors not only to prove that defendants committed a bad act, but also that they also had bad intentions. In a theft, don't merely show that the accused took someone's property, but also show that he or she knew it belonged to someone else.
Over time, lawmakers have devised a sliding scale for different crimes. For instance, a "willful" violation is among the toughest to prove.
Requiring the government to prove a willful violation is "a big protection for all of us," says Andrew Weissmann, a New York attorney who for a time ran the Justice Department's criminal investigation of Enron Corp. Generally speaking in criminal law, he says, willful means "you have the specific intent to violate the law."

Burlington Boy Is Sentenced To Seven Years

the Denver Post

BURLINGTON — A Burlington teen who killed his parents and seriously wounded two siblings was sentenced today to spend seven years in juvenile detention followed by probation.
The boy, who was 12 when the murders occurred on March 1 but has since turned 13, could have faced adult sanctions, but the district attorney chose to offer him a plea agreement that will result in years of counseling, followed by a chance at an adult life.
The plea agreement was announced in August, though the judge could have rejected it this morning. Instead, he heard testimony from the family, and saw evidence of the boy's emotional maturity, including photographs showing Legos scattered throughout his room, and a sand pit where he had been playing just before he went berzerk with a knife and gun.
A majority of the boy's family wanted to see him spend more than seven years in detention in the killings of Charles, 50, and Marilyn Long, 51, with some seeking a life sentence.
The hearing consisted of two parts. The first was conducted behind closed doors, with only the boy's family, attorney, counselors, judge and prosecutors in attendance.
Charles' older brother, Wally Long, spoke during both the closed and open portions of the hearing, saying he and most of his family disagree with the sentence.
"Our family has gone through a great tragedy," Long said. "I think the biggest tragedy is the sentence being handed down today."
District Attorney Bob Watson previously cited evidence of the boy's lack of maturity in choosing to give him a second chance at life through the juvenile sentence.
Marilyn's mother, who defense attorneys said visited the boy often after his arrest, wrote a letter on his behalf.
Tom Ward with the Colorado Public Defenders Office read the letter, which described the boy as caring and generous, but also stated that he confided in his grandmother about troubles in the home.

Everyone said, 'You should talk to him' - The Pueblo Chieftain: Local

Everyone said, 'You should talk to him' - The Pueblo Chieftain: Local: Maybe O.D. Woolsey is just another killer who deserves to live
out his days in the Colorado penal system, and maybe not.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tough Sentences Help Prosecutors Push For Plea Bargains

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After decades of new laws to toughen sentencing for criminals, prosecutors have gained greater leverage to extract guilty pleas from defendants and reduce the number of cases that go to trial, often by using the threat of more serious charges with mandatory sentences or other harsher penalties.
Some experts say the process has become coercive in many state and federal jurisdictions, forcing defendants to weigh their options based on the relative risks of facing a judge and jury rather than simple matters of guilt or innocence. In effect, prosecutors are giving defendants more reasons to avoid having their day in court.
“We now have an incredible concentration of power in the hands of prosecutors,” said Richard E. Myers II, a former assistant United States attorney who is now an associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina. He said that so much influence now resides with prosecutors that “in the wrong hands, the criminal justice system can be held hostage.”
One crucial, if unheralded, effect of this shift is now coming into sharper view, according to academics who study the issue. Growing prosecutorial power is a significant reason that the percentage of felony cases that go to trial has dropped sharply in many places.
Plea bargains have been common for more than a century, but lately they have begun to put the trial system out of business in some courtrooms. By one count, fewer than one in 40 felony cases now make it to trial, according to data from nine states that have published such records since the 1970s, when the ratio was about one in 12. The decline has been even steeper in federal district courts.
Cases like Florida v. Shane Guthrie help explain why. After Mr. Guthrie, 24, was arrested here last year, accused of beating his girlfriend and threatening her with a knife, the prosecutor offered him a deal for two years in prison plus probation.
Mr. Guthrie rejected that, and a later offer of five years, because he believed that he was not guilty, his lawyer said. But the prosecutor’s response was severe: he filed a more serious charge that would mean life imprisonment if Mr. Guthrie is convicted later this year.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Littwin: Troy Davis and Blind Justice, Texas Style

The Denver Post

What makes the Troy Davis execution different from most executions is that you have heard so much about it.
Every so often, a death-penalty case makes the headlines. Not usually. Certainly not always. In some places — like Texas, where Rick Perry has presided over more than 200 executions — it's almost routine.
In fact, on the same day Davis was executed in Georgia, Lawrence Brewer, an admitted white supremacist, was executed in Texas for his part in the infamous dragging death of James Byrd Jr., a black man.
There were at least two newsworthy items from Brewer's execution:
Several of Byrd's children were quoted as saying they didn't believe anything was accomplished by executing Brewer. "You can't fight murder with murder," Ross Byrd, a son, told Reuters. "Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can't hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn't what we want."
And, as Andrew Cohen pointed out in an article on The Atlantic's website, Perry was away that day as the clock ran out on Brewer. Perry was fundraising in Iowa, where, as Cohen wrote, he was available by cellphone.
Davis was a convicted cop killer who was on death row for 22 years. What made his case different was not that he was clearly innocent, as some of his supporters claim.
It's more that Davis might not have been guilty — that there was reason for doubt. If we believe in reasonable doubt as a foundation of American law — and we do — we should believe in beyond reasonable doubt before we put someone to death.
And there was sufficient doubt in this case that William Sessions, the Reagan-appointed FBI director and former federal judge, wrote an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, saying that Davis' sentence should have been commuted to life in prison without parole.
Sessions wrote about Davis' final hearing last year: "What the hearing demonstrated most conclusively was that the evidence in this case — consisting almost entirely of conflicting stories, testimonies and statements — is inadequate to the task of convincingly establishing either Davis' guilt or his innocence."
There was no DNA evidence. There were eyewitnesses, many of whom would eventually recant their testimony. They either lied then or lied later. We do know that three jurors in Davis' trail said they would have changed their vote if they had all the evidence.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Colorado to get 8.3 million to combat substance abuse

The Denver Post

Colorado is one of nine states in line to get millions of dollars in federal money for substance-abuse programs, the state Department of Human Services said today.
Colorado will receive $8.3 million over the next five years for screening, prevention, intervention and referrals to treatment programs.
Colorado's share is part of a $137 million federal initiative announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in August. The grants are largely partly funded by the Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2010 to reform healthcare costs and programs.
The money is to fund state and local public health programs supported through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, as in Colorado's case, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Additional SAMHSA funds supplemented money from the healthcare reform program.
"This grant is a big win for Colorado," Reggie Bicha, executive director of the state Department of Human Services, said in a media release this afternoon.
"The more successful we are at early intervention in substance abuse cases, the more we can be successful in preventing all the tragedies of serious substance abuse, including lost productivity, family relationships and ultimately, lives."
Colorado's rates of marijuana and cocaine use, alcohol consumption, and binge drinking are among the highest states in the country, according to a SAMHSA survey released in July.
State officials said at the time that Colorado was hurt by a lack of funding for prevention and treatment programs.

Sheriff's evidence chief resigns amid probe - The Pueblo Chieftain: Local

Sheriff's evidence chief resigns amid probe - The Pueblo Chieftain: Local: The head of the evidence and property section at the Pueblo
County Sheriff Office's has resigned amid a criminal investigation
into missing ca…

Friday, September 23, 2011

CDC Awards 6.5 million To Study Youth Violence in Montbello

The Denver Post

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will spend $6.5 million in Denver's Montbello neighborhood to learn about adolescent violence and test prevention strategies.
The grant was awarded to the University of Colorado's Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, named by the CDC as one of 10 National Academic Centers for Excellence in Youth Violence Prevention. It will be part of a five-year program to study youth violence and introduce prevention programs in the community.
Beginning Oct. 1, researchers will go into homes and schools in the southwest portion of Montbello, located northeast of Interstate 70 and Peoria Street, to collect data on violence among people 10 to 24 years old. After a year, that data will be turned into a neighborhood profile. During the following four years, a board of residents and community officials will decide which prevention programs to use, based on the profile.
"We are trying to build coalitions between residents and agencies providing services to the area," said Delbert Elliott, director of the CU center. "What we hope to do is improve the quality of the services being delivered."
Grant regulations required that the center find an area with high rates of gang violence and other related crimes. Statistics were pulled from clusters of Denver neighborhoods, and researchers found that Montbello, and the adjacent Northeast Park Hill neighborhood, had similar crime rates and demographics.
Elliott, the project's principal investigator, chose randomly between the two, and Montbello became the focus of the research. Northeast Park Hill will be used as a control to determine whether programs implemented in Montbello are making a difference.
Though Montbello is a neighborhood of many tidy suburban homes, gang violence and one-on-one fights have snarled adolescents for years in the area, which struggles with high unemployment rates and poverty.
"The thing about Denver neighborhoods is they don't always have the appearance of a city that struggles with youth violence," said Terrance Roberts, executive director of The Prodigal Son Initiative, a program that works with at-risk children.
Dr. Eric Sigel, associate professor of pediatrics at the UC Denver School of Medicine and co-investigator for the project, said that violence peaks in adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17.
Adolescents at risk for violent behavior are most easily identified in middle school. Screening children earlier could prevent them from becoming violent or more aggressive later.
Montbello youths often lack an outlet from pressure to act like an adult too soon, said Allen Smith, executive director of Denver Summit Schools Network.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Georgia Executes Troy Davis

The Denver Post

JACKSON, Ga. — Georgia executed Troy Davis on Wednesday night for the murder of an off-duty police officer, a crime he denied committing right to the end as supporters around the world mourned and declared that an innocent man was put to death.
Defiant to the end, he told relatives of Mark MacPhail that his 1989 slaying was not his fault. "I did not have a gun," he insisted.
"For those about to take my life," he told prison officials, "may God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls." Davis was declared dead at 11:08. The lethal injection began about 15 minutes earlier, after the Supreme Court rejected an 11th-hour request for a stay.
The court did not comment on its order, which came about four hours after it received the request and more than three hours after the planned execution time.
Though Davis' attorneys said seven of nine key witnesses against him disputed all or parts of their testimony, state and federal judges repeatedly ruled against granting him a new trial. As the court losses piled up Wednesday, his offer to take a polygraph test was rejected and the pardons board refused to give him one more hearing.
Davis' supporters staged vigils in the U.S. and Europe, declaring "I am Troy Davis" on signs, T-shirts and the Internet. Some tried increasingly frenzied measures, urging prison workers to stay home and even posting a judge's phone number online, hoping people will press him to put a stop to the lethal injection. President Barack Obama deflected calls for him to get involved.
"They say death row; we say hell no!" protesters shouted outside the Jackson prison where Davis was to be executed. In Washington, a crowd outside the Supreme Court yelled the same chant.

Condemned Inmate Troy Davis Has Much Support, Little Hope

The Denver Post

ATLANTA — Yet another appeal denied, Troy Davis was left with little to do Tuesday but wait to be executed for a murder he insists he did not commit.
On Tuesday, he lost his most realistic chance to avoid lethal injection, as Georgia's pardons board rejected his appeal for clemency. As his scheduled execution tonight neared, his backers resorted to far-fetched measures: urging prison workers to strike or call in sick, asking prosecutors to block the execution — even considering a desperate appeal for White House intervention.
He has gotten support from hundreds of thousands of people, including a former FBI director, former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI, and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling gave him an unusual opportunity to prove his innocence last year.
State and federal courts, however, repeatedly upheld his conviction for the 1989 killing of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer who was working as a security guard in Savannah when he was shot dead rushing to help a homeless man who was being attacked.
Davis' attorneys say he was convicted based on flawed testimony that has been largely recanted by witnesses, but prosecutors and MacPhail's relatives say they have no doubt the right man is being punished.
"Justice was finally served for my father," said Mark MacPhail Jr., who was an infant when his father was gunned down. "The truth was finally heard."
As Davis' attorneys considered filing another appeal, his supporters planned vigils and rallies around the world. Nearly 1 million signed a petition seeking clemency, according to Amnesty International.
"Allowing a man to be sent to death under an enormous cloud of doubt about his guilt is an outrageous affront to justice," said Larry Cox, who heads Amnesty International USA.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Troy Davis Is Denied Clemency in Georgia

ATLANTA — Troy Davis, whose death row case ignited an international campaign to save his life, has lost what appeared to be his last attempt to avoid death by lethal injection on Wednesday.
Rejecting pleas by Mr. Davis’s lawyers that shaky witness testimony and a lack of physical evidence presented enough doubt about his guilt to spare him death, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles ruled on Tuesday morning that Mr. Davis, 42, should die for killing Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer, in a Savannah parking lot in 1989.
“He has had ample time to prove his innocence, and he is not innocent,” said Mr. MacPhail’s widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris. “We have laws in this land so that there is not chaos. We are not killing Troy because we want to. We’re trying to execute him because he was punished.”
She, Mr. MacPhail’s mother and the couple’s two grown children were tearful after the hearing on Monday, pleading exhaustion.
“I’m not for blood. I’m for justice,” said his mother, Anneliese MacPhail. “We have been through hell, my family.”
The family of Mr. Davis, who had gathered in an Atlanta hotel to await the decision, learned that he would be put to death from members of his legal team and Amnesty International.
“I just left the room, it’s very quiet up there,” said Wende Gozan Brown, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International, who was on her way to visit Mr. Davis in prison. Whether he will be able to offer a statement was in question. Prison officials were tightly controlling his access to visitors.
“They are definitely going to listen to everything he says or does,” she said.
A vigil is planned for Tuesday night on the steps of the Georgia State capital.
The case has been a slow and convoluted exercise in legal maneuvering and death penalty politics. It has included last-minute stays and a rare Supreme Court decision.
Because Georgia’s governor has no power to stay executions, the parole board was the last hope for Mr. Davis.
“I don’t see any avenues to the Supreme Court,” said Anne S. Emanuel, a law professor at Georgia State University who has formally reviewed the case and found it too weak to merit the death penalty. “There’s nothing else apparent.”
The last-ditch effort to spare Mr. Davis’s life produced a widespread reaction among people who believe there was too much doubt to execute him.
More than 630,000 letters asking the board to stay the execution were delivered by Amnesty International last Friday. The list of people asking that the Georgia parole board offer clemency included President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 51 members of Congress, entertainment figures like Cee Lo Green and death penalty supporters, including William S. Sessions, a former F.B.I. director.
On Friday, more than 3,000 people gathered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, in the heart of Martin Luther King Jr.’s former neighborhood, for a prayer vigil and protest.
This is the fourth time Mr. Davis has faced the death penalty. The state parole board granted him a stay in 2007 as he was preparing for his final hours, saying the execution should not proceed unless its members “are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.” The board has since added three new members.
In 2008, his execution was about 90 minutes away when the Supreme Court stepped in. Although the court kept Mr. Davis from execution, it later declined to hear the case.
In the week before his third execution date, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of execution to consider arguments from his lawyer that new testimony that could prove his innocence had not been considered.
The appeals court denied the claim but allowed time for Mr. Davis to take his argument directly to the Supreme Court, which ordered a federal court to once again examine new testimony.

Colorado Killings Fall to 40 Year Low

The Denver Post
The FBI confirmed Monday what many local cops have known for some time: crime is down in Colorado, as it is across the country.
Revised figures show Colorado had 120 homicides in 2010, an almost 32 percent decline from 2009 and the lowest one-year total since 1969, according to the FBI's annual "Crime in the United States" report.
Nationally, reported homicides were down 4.2 percent, according to the report.
All violent crimes in Colorado — murder, armed assaults, rapes, robberies and non-negligent manslaughter — were down 5 percent in 2010 from the previous year. Nationally, the decline was 6 percent.
Property crimes such as burglary, larceny, car thefts and arson fell 2.7 percent in Colorado and 6.5 percent nationally.
While law enforcement leaders said it's faulty to read too much into one year's numbers, they noted the state's steady decline in crime over 16 years.
"We're not fooling ourselves: Numbers that go down can and will come back up," said Sonny Jackson, a spokesman for Denver police, which saw a 10-year low of 27 homicides in 2010.
The department has already had 35 this year, he said.
Lance Clem, spokesman for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which collects the data for the FBI from local agencies, partially credited modern approaches to law enforcement.
"Part of it is definitely smarter policing," he said. "But it's really a combination of things, and, in some years, you get lucky and have fewer crimes."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in U.S., data show

Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in U.S., data show

Propelled by an increase in prescription narcotic overdoses, drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the United States, a Times analysis of government data has found.

Drugs exceeded motor vehicle accidents as a cause of death in 2009, killing at least 37,485 people nationwide, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While most major causes of preventable death are declining, drugs are an exception. The death toll has doubled in the last decade, now claiming a life every 14 minutes. By contrast, traffic accidents have been dropping for decades because of huge investments in auto safety.

Public health experts have used the comparison to draw attention to the nation's growing prescription drug problem, which they characterize as an epidemic. This is the first time that drugs have accounted for more fatalities than traffic accidents since the government started tracking drug-induced deaths in 1979.

Fueling the surge in deaths are prescription pain and anxiety drugs that are potent, highly addictive and especially dangerous when combined with one another or with other drugs or alcohol. Among the most commonly abused are OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Soma. One relative newcomer to the scene is Fentanyl, a painkiller that comes in the form of patches and lollipops and is 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Such drugs now cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Violent Crime in The US Plunged 12 Percent

The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — The number of violent crimes fell by a surprising 12 percent in the United States last year, a far bigger drop than the nation has been averaging since 2001, the Justice Department said.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported there were 3.8 million violent crimes last year, down from 4.3 million in 2009.
Experts aren't sure why. The expectation had been that crime would increase in a weak economy with high unemployment like that seen in 2010.
The reality is that "we're surprised to find how much it declines," said professor Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz School.
The big drop dwarfs the 3 percent yearly decline in violent crimes the nation averaged from 2001 through 2009.
More than 80 percent of the decline in violent crime was attributed to a plunge in simple assaults, by 15 percent. Those assaults accounted for nearly two-thirds of all violent crimes in 2010.
The combined total of property crimes and violent crimes was down 6.6 percent last year, from 20 million to 18.7 million.
The numbers come from the National Crime Victimization Survey, which gathers information on nonfatal crimes against people aged 12 or older by questioning a nationally representative sample of U.S. households.
Turning to rates of crime per thousand residents, which takes into account population growth over time, it is clear that the decline in violent crime is part of a long-term trend that began in 1993.
From 1993 through 2010, the rate of violent crime has declined by a whopping 70 percent: from 49.9 violent crimes per 1,000 persons age 12 or older to only 14.9 per 1,000 in 2010.
Half of this decline came between 1993 and 2001. Between 2001 and 2009, violent crime declined at a more modest annual average of 4 percent, but that rate decline jumped to 13 percent in 2010. From 2001 through 2010, the rate of property crime fell by 28 percent.
The rate for violent crime is based on the number per thousand population. The property crime rate is based on the number per thousand households.
The victimization survey figures are considered the government's most reliable crime statistics because they count crimes that are reported to the police as well as those which go unreported.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Judge threatens Denver with daily fines over release of police excessive-force documents - The Denver Post

Judge threatens Denver with daily fines over release of police excessive-force documents - The Denver Post

A federal judge has threatened Denver with $5,000-a-day fines if city officials don't make "substantial progress" toward handing over police excessive-force documents that are the subject of a lawsuit.

Senior U.S. District Judge John Kane had already scolded the city in a previous order for failing to turn over the documents, which detail how the city handled excessive-force complaints made against officers in the past eight years.

The attorneys for a man who claims police wrongfully roughed him up are seeking the documents to try to prove their allegation that Denver police condone a culture of abuse.

Separately, The Denver Post also is seeking the documents.

Kane ordered the city to produce the documents in July. His latest rulings come after the city sought reconsideration of that July order, arguing that the time and cost of gathering the documents are too much.

In a court filing last month, city attorneys said it would take 3,600 staff hours — at a total cost of more than $85,000 to the city — to get the reports together. In an e-mailed statement Tuesday, Denver City Attorney Doug Friednash said the documents span 300,000 pages and 7,500 audio and video recordings.

"There is still a great deal of work that must be completed in order to comply with the court's orders," Friednash wrote. "These are hours that cannot be devoted to other critical matters, including public safety issues, at a time when the city's resources are limited."

Complicating things, wrote Safety Department records coordinator Mary Dulacki in a sworn statement filed with the court, is that most of the documents are not electronically stored and must be pulled and copied by hand.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lawsuit accuses state of Colorado of long delays in providing mental health evaluations - The Denver Post

Lawsuit accuses state of Colorado of long delays in providing mental health evaluations - The Denver Post

Defendants incompetent to stand trial are waiting months — sometimes longer than likely sentences for their alleged crimes — for mental health evaluations and treatment because of a backlog at the state hospital in Pueblo.

A new lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court accuses the state of warehousing mentally ill detainees in county jails, alleges civil rights violations and asks a judge to order much shorter wait times.

It's the second time in five years that advocates have asked a court to speed up the line into the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo for people accused of crimes.

As budgets have stagnated or inched lower, the number of people in need of mental health intervention as they drift through the criminal justice system has risen more sharply than the state expected.

Defense attorney Iris Eytan, who filed the lawsuit on Aug. 31, said budget woes may be a reality, but they're no excuse.

"You can't use the budget crisis to justify violating people's constitutional rights. You don't dump the problem on the most-disenfranchised population in Colorado," Eytan said. "You fix it. You saw this coming. We sued you five years ago."

People charged with crimes have a right to understand the charges against them and participate in their own defense.

When in doubt, a judge can order a defendant to undergo a psychological evaluation. Those can be done as defendants wait in jail, at the state mental hospital in Pueblo or in the community.

If defendants are found incompetent, a court orders the state hospital to treat them until they're ready for trial.

The lawsuit lists examples of people who have waited as long as six months between an order for evaluation and when they were finally admitted to the state hospital.

In the meantime, they sat in jail.

Eytan is asking a federal judge to require the state Department of Human Services, the agency that oversees the hospital, to limit waits to seven days each for evaluation and admission.

The Lingering Injustice of Attica

NY Times
FORTY years ago today, more than 1,000 inmates at Attica Correctional Facility began a major civil and human rights protest — an uprising that is barely mentioned in textbooks but nevertheless was one of the most important rebellions in American history.
A forbidding institution that opened in 1931, Attica, roughly midway between Buffalo and Rochester, was overcrowded and governed by rigid and often capricious penal practices.
The guards were white men from small towns in upstate New York; the prisoners were mostly urban African-Americans and Puerto Ricans. They wanted decent medical care so that an inmate like Angel Martinez, 21, could receive treatment for his debilitating polio. They wanted more humane parole so that a man like L. D. Barkley, also 21, wouldn’t be locked up in a maximum security facility like Attica for driving without a license. They also wanted less discriminatory policies so that black inmates like Richard X. Clark wouldn’t be given the worst jobs, while white prisoners were given the best. These men first tried writing to state officials, but their pleas for reform were largely ignored. Eventually, they erupted.
Over five days, Americans sat glued to their televisions as this uprising unfolded. They watched in surprise as inmates elected representatives from each cellblock to negotiate on their behalf. They watched in disbelief as these same inmates protected the guards and civilian employees they had taken hostage.
They also saw the inmates request the presence of official “observers” to ensure productive and peaceful interactions with the state. These eventually included the New York Times columnist Tom Wicker; the radical lawyer William M. Kunstler; politicians like Arthur O. Eve, John R. Dunne and Herman Badillo; and ministers as well as activists.
As the rebellion wore on, and the lawn around Attica filled with hundreds of heavily armed state troopers, these observers worried that Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, having already refused to grant amnesty to the inmates if they surrendered, would turn to force. This, they knew, would result in a massacre. 

Friday, September 09, 2011

Hickenlooper will get two Supreme Court picks

Denver Post

When Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced last month that Supreme Court Justice Alex Martinez will become the city’s new manager of safety, I blogged about Gov. John Hickenlooper’s good fortune of getting a Supreme Court pick so early in his term.
Matt Spengler, one of the attorneys at Hale Westfall LLC who contributes to the fabulous Rocky Mountain Appellate Blog, took my post one step further (as in, he actually did some math) and determined that Hickenlooper is set to have at least two high court appointments. That’s because Chief Justice Michael Bender will hit the court’s mandatory retirement age in January 2014 – at which point Hickenlooper will still have another year left on his term.
As for the Martinez opening, the deadline to apply is coming up on Sept. 19. Anyone wishing to suggest a candidate has until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 12. More info on the selection process can be found in this announcement from the court.
The nominating commission is scheduled to meet on Oct. 3 to review applications, and again on Oct. 11 and 12 to interview candidates and select nominees. Hickenlooper has 15 days from receiving a list of nominees to make his appointment.
Spengler ended his blog post by giving odds on who will be the next chief justice after Bender leaves. I’ll throw out a new wager: What will we have first – a new Colorado Supreme Court justice or a new Denver police chief? Considering the ongoing silence from city hall, my money’s on the court

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Editorial: Terrible twist in Denver police saga - The Denver Post

Editorial: Terrible twist in Denver police saga - The Denver Post

You can build all the bridges you want to boost public trust in Denver's police department, but it takes only one mind-boggling disciplinary decision to undermine that work.

Such a decision came Tuesday when a panel decided to reinstate two Denver police officers who had been fired for lying about the brutal 2009 beating of a 24-year-old man in LoDo.

The decision, based on a narrow reading of the city charter, has a created an injustice that must be righted.

We're glad the city not only is appealing the reinstatements of Officer Devin Sparks and Cpl. Randy Murr, but is asking for a stay of the decision, which was made by a three- member panel of the Civil Service Commission.

These officers should not be allowed to work for the Denver Police Department even for a short time while the city works through what we hope is a successful appeal process.

The incident in question took place outside a nightclub in LoDo in April 2009. Michael DeHerrera and a friend had been booted from the club after the friend used a women's restroom.

A police department video camera recorded DeHerrera standing still, doing nothing more than talking on a cellphone.

That's when Sparks grabbed DeHerrera and threw him face-first onto the pavement and beat him repeatedly with what is called a sap, a piece of metal wrapped in leather.

The officers, not knowing their actions had been recorded, had maintained DeHerrera was the aggressor. Independent police monitor Richard Rosenthal in 2010 called the police report recounting that version of events "pure fiction." Rosenthal had urged the firings of Sparks and Murr.

Instead of firing the officers, Ron Perea, Denver's safety manager at the time, gave the officers light suspensions. It was a stunning decision, and Perea reversed himself a month later.

That reversal is at the crux of the decision made by the panel. It's important to realize the panel did not consider the facts of the case in overturning the firings. The panel said the procedure was faulty — that Perea made the decision after a 10-day deadline for appeals.

The saga continues with the officers subsequently being fired by new safety manager Charles Garcia. However, it's the Perea reversal that is at issue.

We think the three-member panel was too restrictive in its reading of the charter in ruling Perea was prohibited from reconsidering the disciplinary decision.

The city will appeal to the Civil Service Commission, where we hope this decision will be overturned. If it is not, the city ought to take the matter to the court system.

Monday, September 05, 2011

CDOC's New Website

Lots of new information on the DOC's website...

Nations Jails Struggle with Mentally Ill Prisoners

September 4, 2011
Three hundred and fifty thousand: That's a conservative estimate for the number of offenders with mental illness confined in America's prisons and jails.
More Americans receive mental health treatment in prisons and jails than in hospitals or treatment centers. In fact, the three largest inpatient psychiatric facilities in the country are jails: Los Angeles County Jail, Rikers Island Jail in New York City and Cook County Jail in Illinois.
"We have a criminal justice system which has a very clear purpose: You get arrested. We want justice. We try you, and justice hopefully prevails. It was never built to handle people that were very, very ill, at least with mental illness," Judge Steve Leifman tells Laura Sullivan, guest host of weekends on All Things Considered.
A failing system
When the government began closing state-run hospitals in the 1980s, people with mental illness had nowhere to turn; many ended up in jail. Leifman saw the problem first-hand decades ago in the courtroom. When individuals suffering from mental illness came before him accused of petty crimes, he didn't have many options.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Escape: Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity

The Washington Post
STERLING, Colo. — An inmate who escaped from a maximum-security Colorado prison has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to kidnapping and other charges after he allegedly held a woman hostage before surrendering.
The Journal Advocate reported Friday (http://bit.ly/pI34aG ) that Douglas Alward entered his plea in state court in Sterling.
Alward escaped Aug. 22, 2010, from a prison outside Sterling, about 100 miles northeast of Denver. He was arrested three days later near Yuma, 45 miles from the prison. The hostage was unhurt.
Alward is charged with escape, holding a hostage, burglary, kidnapping and other counts.
District Judge Michael Singer says Alward will be evaluated at the state Mental Health Institute in Pueblo.
Alward was serving 20 to 40 years for attempted murder, assault, burglary and kidnapping. This was his fourth escape.

Infighting plagues Colorado marijuana legalization bid - The Denver Post

Infighting plagues Colorado marijuana legalization bid - The Denver Post

The campaign to put an initiative partially legalizing marijuana on the 2012 Colorado ballot says it already has collected 35,000 signatures, but it has been dogged in the effort's earliest stages by a persistent foe: other marijuana-legalization supporters.

At volunteer meetings and signature-gathering drives, a splinter group of pro-legalization activists has shown up to argue that the measure doesn't go far enough. At one such event, an activist allegedly took a clipboard of signed petitions and tossed it into the trash. At another, an activist was arrested for trespassing after refusing to leave.

"It's disingenuous," Corey Donahue, the activist who was arrested during a meeting last month at the Boulder Public Library, said of the initiative. "I think they're lying to the people of Colorado."

Mason Tvert, one of the leaders of the initiative campaign, admitted the activists have been a slight headache. But he said they ultimately represent just a tiny, if noisy, segment of the population.

"This is a coalition of tens of thousands of supporters," Tvert said of the initiative's backers. "We're not hearing concerns expressed by any more than that one particular group."

The proposed initiative, which is currently named the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, would allow anyone 21 and older legally to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow six cannabis plants. People also would be able to purchase marijuana from pot shops, which the state would license and regulate in much the same way it does medical-marijuana dispensaries. Some marijuana-related offenses, such as sales to minors or driving under the influence, would remain illegal.

Already, four issue committees have formed to support the effort, according to state records. One, called the Coalition to End Marijuana Prohibition, is largely funded with a $10,000 donation from the Marijuana Policy Project, a national marijuana-legalization organization. Three other groups have not yet had to report their finances.