Colorado: SB 21-062 – Further Eroding the Criminal Justice System

Bail Reform Legislation Would Create a Presumption of Personal Recognizance Bonds in All Felony 4, Felony 5, Felony 6, and Misdemeanor Crimes in Colorado

As crime continues to spike in Colorado’s urban centers, bail reformers are at it again, pushing Senate Bill 21-062.  This new proposed legislation attempts to further erode criminal accountability by arguing that we need to further loosen up the criminal justice system so that fewer defendants will get arrested and more will receive a get out of jail free card (known as a “personal recognizance bond.”).

This is a dramatic move that is opposed by Colorado Chiefs of Police, numerous Sheriffs, and many members of the community.  Recent public testimony against the bill included numerous angry business owners who are attempting to operate on Boulder’s Pearl Street mall, where they are subjected to continuing crimes against their businesses, which sadly includes subjecting their employees to physical violence from repeat offenders.

Originally, the ACLU’s legislation would have also prohibited the arrest by police of Felony 4-6 and all misdemeanor crimes in Colorado.  Of course, to get groups to “neutral” (which doesn’t mean “support”) it had to make a litany of concessions as to these arrest powers.  These included some serious exceptions including: (1) Victim’s Right Act crimes, which are of the most serious crimes to human victims in Colorado; (2) Sexual Offenses including failure to register; (3) repeat DUI crimes including felony DUI crimes; and (4) “The offense includes an element of illegal possession or use of a firearm.”  So, Police Officers under the ACLU’s bill have unfettered authority to arrest persons in these categories.

But when it comes to the presumption of a personal recognizance bond in all F-4, F-5, F-6 and misdemeanors, there are no such exceptions.  While there are new exceptions to the personal recognizance presumption, they are quite narrow and require prosecutors to put on evidence at a bail mini-trial.  The end result is that officers are going to arrest defendants on felony Victim Rights Act Crimes, Sexual Offenses, Repeat DUI and Firearms Crimes that are going to get out of jail on a personal recognizance bond as a direct result of this presumption.  How many, we’ll never know, but it will be a significant amount because, as the ACLU testified at the hearing, the goal is to depopulate the jails permanently and make things look the COVID-19 release policy where the jail populations dropped 10-50% depending on the jurisdiction.

Where is the Governor on this, you may ask?  We don’t know.  The ACLU testified at the hearing that the Colorado Department of Public Safety (a cabinet department) supported the bill, but the sponsor of the bill noted that the Colorado Department of Public Safety was “neutral” on the bill.  So, which is it?  We do know that this bill was not the product of careful deliberations of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ), chaired by the Administration’s Public Safety Director Stan Hilkey.  Similarly, the bill does not enjoy the support of CCJJ, which nearly all important criminal justice legislation that has become law over the last 15 years has.

At the end of the day, this deceptive bill, known as “jail population management tools” is legislative line drawing at expense of judicial discretion.

As we learned in New York and many other states, this line drawing is dangerous and increases defendants thumbing their nose at the system and skipping court, delaying justice.  Amazingly, the bill that was actually endorsed by CCJJ for the past two years that would have provided funding to local governments is nowhere to be seen.

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