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Colorado deserves real progress on sentencing reform

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Colorado deserves real progress on sentencing reform

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Colorado’s criminal penalty laws are outdated and ineffective. There is a general lack of certainty and transparency regarding the length of prison sentence someone will serve when convicted by a judge. This uncertainty is unfair to everyone – victim, accused and community. For years, Colorado has followed other states in the successful rehabilitation of offenders released from state prison. About half of all offenders released from state prison return to prison within three years. In fact, our recidivism rate is among the 10 worst in the country.

Recently, demands for criminal sentencing reform have been at the forefront in Colorado. Consider two cases that have received media attention.

First, the case of Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, the truck driver who drove recklessly and then crashed his truck in traffic on I-70, killing four people and injuring others. As the court actively sought to adjust the original sentence imposed on the basis of mandatory consecutive sentencing laws, Governor Jared Polis commuted the sentence and lowered it to 10 years in state prison.

That same week, Kenneth Lee was arrested and charged with child sexual assault and first degree burglary. Many have questioned the timing of his earlier release from state prison. Just seven years ago, a judge sentenced Lee to 23 years in prison for kidnapping and 6 years to life for sexually assaulting another child.

Putting aside our perspective on these findings, we must recognize that these two cases reflect fundamental issues in Colorado’s sentencing laws and their inherent impact on public safety and community confidence.

Fortunately, Colorado approaches sentencing reform in a holistic, bipartisan way with input from many stakeholders: prosecutors, defense lawyers, law enforcement, probation officers, mental health professionals, ex-offenders, victims and others. legislators from both parties, among others. He is late.

Colorado has not systematically reviewed its sentencing laws since 1985. Since then, our sentencing laws have become inconsistent, difficult to understand, and misaligned. In June 2020, Governor Polis led a comprehensive review of our sentencing laws to ensure our sentencing system is rational, fair, equitable and consistent. This work is ongoing.

We co-chair the Sentencing Reform Task Force which, along with the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, engages in data-driven analysis and constructive efforts to improve our sentencing laws. the penalty. The task force has already conducted an extensive review of Colorado’s tort laws, reviewing approximately 1,000 criminal offenses and conducting an investigation
State-by-state comparative review of misdemeanor sentencing ranges, which found that Colorado’s misdemeanor sentencing range was high compared to almost all other states.

This work led the task force to help produce Senate Bill 21-271, which the legislature passed last session. The bill, which comes into effect in March, revised Colorado’s laws on sentencing for misdemeanors. With overwhelming and bipartisan support, SB 271 adjusts the ranges of penalties for misdemeanors, eliminates redundant infractions, and reclassifies some infractions. To increase certainty in the system, SB 271 also requires all county jails to use a standard, consistent measure to determine sentence length and eliminate inconsistencies that vary by county.

There is still a lot of work to be done. The task force examines felony sentences, the length and purpose of probation/conditional release, and the length of time offenders actually serve. Our work includes evaluating the laws that produced the results in the Aguilera-Mederos and Lee cases. Although the members of the Task Force represent many different aspects of the justice system, we all recognize that the success,
Lasting change comes from concerted and united efforts to improve our justice system.

Sentencing reform forces us to move forward – not backward – and it can be a difficult process. Those who advocate to protect the status quo or push for the failed practices of yesteryear undermine public safety, as evidenced by our unacceptable recidivism rate. We invite those who point fingers to join our efforts, rather than simply using egregious cases to facilitate their own political ambitions — while allowing Colorado to fail. Justice demands better.

Michael Dougherty is the District Attorney for the 20th Judicial District (Boulder County). Rick Kornfeld is a criminal defense attorney in private practice in Denver and a member of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

Colorado deserves real progress on sentencing reform

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