2012 Legislative Wrap-up

Bills add new offenses, reforms to criminal justice system

The Colorado Statesman

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed more than a dozen judicial bills this year that add new offenses, eliminate old offenses and bring reforms to the overall criminal justice system.

Perhaps the most controversial judicial bill was House Bill 1271, sponsored by Reps. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, and Beth McCann, D-Denver, and Sens. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Tim Neville, R-Littleton. It requires a court hearing before prosecuting youth defendants as adults.

Hickenlooper struggled with the direct file limitations bill, concerned that prosecutors across the state were asking him to veto the legislation. But on April 20 he signed the bill, arguing that it had “strong” bipartisan support.

“This was about as close as I’ve come to a veto without vetoing,” Hickenlooper said after he signed the bill. “But in the end, I feel very comfortable with the decision.”

The current direct file system allows prosecutors to transfer juvenile offenders to adult criminal court without judicial review. HB 1271 stipulates that courts have a hearing before prosecuting juveniles as adults.

But critics say prosecutors have never abused the system. During debate of the bill, Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, a former police officer, displayed photos of young people holding guns to people’s heads.

Hickenlooper, however, questioned the logic of prosecuting juveniles as adults.

“If you are inordinately harsh and more severe in your punishment of minors there’s a lot of data to show that some of the minors go on to become more violent criminals when perhaps they wouldn’t be if they were treated with a more constructive intervention,” said the governor.

The bill was signed on the 13th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, in which two high school students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, embarked on a shooting spree before killing themselves. Neville, whose district includes Columbine, said the bill does nothing to stop the prosecution of juveniles as adults in such horrendous circumstances.

“Everything stands on its own merit. This day’s an important day for many people who were there, but I think the strength of Columbine is that people do move forward, and we live our lives based on what’s happened to us,” he said follow-ing the bill signing. “I think the people that were involved in Columbine, it’s a very important day to them, but at the same time, so is today, and so is tomorrow.”

Juvenile justice was also addressed in House Bill 1139, sponsored by Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, and Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver. The bill prohibits holding youth in adult jails while awaiting trial.

Hickenlooper signed the bill March 15.

The measure had unanimous support, with supporters pointing out that children in adult jails are often held in solitary confinement, which has a detrimental impact on developing kids who may be found not guilty.

“This bill sends a strong message that developing youth belong in juvenile — not adult — facilities,” said Kim Dvorchak, executive director of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition. “That will have a profound impact on young people held in long periods of isolation.”

Also, a bill that establishes a 10-year mandatory period of parole for juveniles who are adjudicated as delinquents and sentenced for murder was successfully added to an omnibus of criminal proceedings changes.
Senate Bill 28, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, and Rep. Mark Barker, R-Colorado Springs, was added to House Bill 1310 after SB 128 was slated to die on the House calendar in a last-ditch effort by Republicans to kill same-sex civil unions legislation.

HB 1310 was signed on June 7.

Controlled substances legislation

The governor also was applauded for taking action on controlled substance issues, signing one bill that criminalized the so-called drug “bath salts,” and another that offers immunity to reporters of drug overdoses.

The bath salts bill was also included in HB 1310. It started as Senate Bill 116, sponsored by Sen. Joyce Foster, D-Denver, and Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

The bill outlaws the possession of cathinones, a chemical used in bath salts. It also creates a penalty for deceptive trade practices associated with the distribution and production of cathinone products.

Bath salts are said to produce a high similar to cocaine or ecstasy, and were sold legally in Colorado at drug paraphernalia shops.

“We must work hard to keep these extremely dangerous and addictive drugs off the streets,” said Hickenlooper. “We appreciate the speedy response by the General Assembly to pass this legislation this year.”

The bill was signed in the wake of an incident in Grand Junction in which a teenager died of strangulation allegedly after ingesting bath salts.

“Bath salts are a dangerous substance that puts users into a psychotic state,” said Brown. “They’re cheap, accessible and extremely destructive.”

Also attached to the omnibus was a measure that aims to reduce penalties for certain drug possession offenses. Beginning as Senate Bill 163, sponsored by Sens. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, and Pat Steadman, D-Denver, and Reps. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, and Levy, the measure requires the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) to consider thorough analysis and data reducing certain drug possession offenses.

Finally, Senate Bill 104, sponsored by Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, and Steadman, was also added to HB 1310. The measure consolidates three funding sources for substance abuse treatment into one correctional treatment fund.

Not all legislative actions, however, were targeted at harmful controlled substances. Senate Bill 20, sponsored by Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, and Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, creates immunity for persons who report a drug or alcohol overdose to emergency services in good faith and who cooperate with law enforcement or emergency responders. The bill also provides immunity to the person suffering the overdose.

“This new law will save lives,” said Summers. “Fear of police involvement is the no. 1 reason people fail to call emergency services after witnessing an overdose.”

The bill was signed on May 29.

Penalties increased for driving offenses

The most significant piece of legislation this year addressing driving offenses increased the penalty for a hit-and-run resulting in serious bodily injury from a Class 5 felony to a Class 4 felony.

House Bill 1084, sponsored by Reps. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, and Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton, and Sens. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, and Steve King, R-Grand Junction, increases the penalty with the potential of carrying with it two to six years in prison and a fine of $2,000 to $500,000.

At a bill signing ceremony with stakeholders on June 6, Hickenlooper said he hopes that it will ensure that drivers stay at the scene following an accident.

“As unfortunate as it is, we know that accidents are going to happen and we need to make sure that if you’re involved in an accident, that you stay at the scene,” he said.

The bill comes after Tim Albo was seriously injured in 2010 by a hit-and-run driver while crossing the street near Coors Field. Albo was in a coma for several days and will have life-long complications related to the injury. But after being apprehended, the driver, Brandon Mondragon, was only sentenced to six months.

Despite the passage and signing of the bill, Albo says he still doesn’t feel relief. “I wouldn’t say it’s justice, he’s clear and free,” he said after the bill signing. “But at least now if a person gets hit by a car, hopefully we’ll know what that person was doing.”

Lawmakers agreed.

“With the signing of this bill, we are removing the judicial incentive to flee the scene of an accident,” said Conti.
“This bill is about accountability; it’s about responsibility,” said Fields. “Because as drivers, it is a privilege to drive, it is not a right.”

Hickenlooper also signed a driving offenses bill that increases the penalty for parking in front of a fire hydrant in unincorporated areas of a county to a range of $150 to $200. Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, and King sponsored House Bill 1094. Currently, the penalty for the infraction is between $15 and $100.

New crimes and tweaks to existing laws

The legislature also sent to the governor several judicial bills that either create new crimes or increase penalties in Colorado.

House Bill 1304, sponsored by Barker and Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, is aimed at fighting a new form of criminal activity that costs Colorado retailers hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen goods every year.

The bill was signed on May 29. It targets organized retail crime, which is more than just shoplifting. It involves sophisticated, well-organized crime circles whose members move from store-to-store and city-to-city stealing everything from high-priced to everyday commodities families depend on, like diapers and baby formula. One common practice is to set off fire alarms in an effort to cause a chaotic distraction in order to steal goods.

The bill will punish criminals for triggering fire alarms by adding such actions to the “disorderly conduct statute.” The bill also expands the definition of “tools of theft” to include the techniques and methods organized retail criminals employ.

“This law protects Colorado families and business owners,” said Barker. “We’re giving law enforcement the tools they need to fight these new and growing crimes and protecting Colorado’s business owners and families from the increased costs these crimes create.”

Barker’s measure comes after months of working with Colorado retailers, loss prevention specialists, law enforcement and prosecutors across the state. A National Retail Federation and FBI study released in 2007 showed Colorado retailers lose $500 million every year to organized thefts. That translates into a nearly $15 million loss in state sales tax revenue.

Also addressing weaknesses in current statute, Hickenlooper on May 24 signed House Bill 1346, which aims to fix a loophole in current statute in order to protect women and children from sex offenders.

Sponsored by Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, and King, the bill creates a mechanism for sex offenders who do not have a fixed residence to register with a local law enforcement agency every one or three months, de-pending on the offender’s registration status. The law creates a new classified misdemeanor for individuals who fail to verify their location as a sex offender, pun-ishable by up to one year in a county jail.

“This law protects women and children and meets the expectations we’ve placed on the sex offender registration program,” Gardner said. “By closing this loophole, sex offenders will be required to register with law enforcement, regardless of whether they have a fixed residence or not.”

“The lack of an address should not grant a sex offender the chance to avoid registration,” Gardner added. “This law will help ensure all sex offenders, transient or not, are registered with the proper authorities.”

Lawmakers also tackled the issues of human trafficking and stalking by modifying current laws.

In the case of human trafficking, individuals who have been adjudicated for an offense involving unlawful sexual behavior are ineligible to petition for expungement of a juvenile record or sealing an adult criminal record. House Bill 1151, sponsored by Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, and King, creates an exception for an individual who demonstrates that at the time of the offense, they had been sold, exchanged, bartered or leased by another person for the purpose of performing the offense in a human trafficking instance.

The bill was signed on May 11.

Stalking was addressed through House Bill 1114, sponsored by Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village. The measure strengthens current stalking laws by requiring an arrested alleged stalker to go to a bond hearing before a judge and be issued a restraining order before being released from jail.

The bill was signed on May 11.

Hickenlooper also signed a bill that gives neighborhood youth organizations more tools to ensure the safety of the children they serve. House Bill 1228, sponsored by Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, and Steadman, expands the list of methods a neighborhood youth organization can use to satisfy the criminal history check requirement for all employees. Each method must be able to determine wheter the potential employee has been con-victed of felony child abuse or unlawful sexual behavior. Anyone with such a history cannot be employed by the organization. The bill was signed on April 23.

Lawmakers also dealt with offenses of failing to present a valid transit pass or coupon. Senate Bill 44, sponsored by Guzman and Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, changes the offense to a Class B traffic infraction punishable by a $75 fine. Currently, it is a Class 2 petty offense punishable by a fine of up to $100.

Legislation to protect at-risk individuals was also signed by the governor on June 8. House Bill 1226, sponsored by Barker and Aguilar, requires the payment of a new surcharge for people who are convicted of a crime against an at-risk adult or at-risk juvenile. The surcharges vary from $75 to $1,500.

And lawmakers eliminated a law completely, repealing the crime of criminal libel. Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, and Nikkel sponsored senate Bill 102. It was signed on April 13. The legislation does away with criminalizing knowingly publishing or disseminating information that tarnishes the reputations of the living or dead. The crime was a Class 6 felony.
The bill came after a 2003 case in which a University of Northern Colorado student, Thomas Mink, posted satirical comments on his website about his professor at UNC. He was investigated for criminal libel by Weld County. A search warrant was issued giving authorities the ability to search his home and remove his computer. Mink sued the city of Greeley and the prosecuting attorney for violating his freedom of speech. Both lawsuits have been settled.

Many say the law, initially created in 1868, obstructs freedom of speech. “Colorado is one of the few states that still have this law on the books,” Brophy said of the intent for his legislation. “With so many people posting opinions and comments on social media these days, I am surprised we haven’t had more cases similar to the one brought against Thomas Mink.”

-Peter@coloradostatesman.com