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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Colorado bill limiting ability to charge young offenders as adults

Colorado bill limiting ability to charge young offenders as adults heads to governor
Posted: 04/06/2012 01:00:00 AM MDTBy Lynn Bartels


Read more: Colorado bill limiting ability to charge young offenders as adults heads to governor - The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/legislature/ci_20337559/colorado-bill-limiting-ability-charge-young-offenders-adults#ixzz1rc2eA6i2

A bill that reverses course after Colorado's so-called Summer of Violence is on its way to the governor after a strange day in the Senate.

House Bill 1271 erases a district attorney's ability to file adult charges on low-level felonies against juvenile offenders.

"I've never grappled on a bill more in my life, one way or the other," said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, who ultimately voted against the measure.

The bill, which passed 22-13, crossed party lines in both the House and the Senate and led to passionate debates over whether there has been overreaching since a spate of gang violence in 1993 inspired tougher laws against young criminals.

Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, said the intent of Colorado's direct-file statute — to punish the most serious, violent teen offenders — had been lost.

"I've worked with kids, at-risk youth, for 27 years. A lot of them have gone to prison," she said. "They may be rehabilitated, but with a felony conviction, they're often doomed to a criminal life."

Under the bill, any 14- or 15-year-old defendant would start in the juvenile system, regardless of his or her alleged crimes. Prosecutors could still charge 16- and 17-year-old defendants as adults in cases of murder, kidnapping and violent assaults.

And prosecutors also could direct file on juveniles accused of crimes of violence who have prior felony-level offenses on their juvenile records.

GOP Sens. Shawn Mitchell of Broomfield and Steve King of Grand Junction, who works in law enforcement, led the fight against the bill.

"We've heard a lot about the defendants' families. What about the victims and their families?" King asked, pounding the lectern.

At one point he showed a poster-size photo of a 17-year-old in a white hoodie holding a gun to the head of a female store clerk.

King sided with prosecutors who predicted the bill would endanger public safety by curbing their ability to stop potentially dangerous juvenile offenders by giving them longer sentences in more prisonlike youth programs.

Lynn Bartels: 303-954-5327 or lbartels@denverpost.com



Read more: Colorado bill limiting ability to charge young offenders as adults heads to governor - The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/legislature/ci_20337559/colorado-bill-limiting-ability-charge-young-offenders-adults#ixzz1rc39br9q
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