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Bill To Reduce DA’s Power To Charge Youths Debated

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Inside the Colorado Legislature (credit: CBS)

Inside the Colorado Legislature (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – A contentious proposal to reduce Colorado prosecutors’ power to charge youths as adults – and ensure that judges are involved in the process – got initial approval Wednesday and is one step closer to the governor’s desk.

The bill has divided lawmakers from both parties over the question of how juvenile criminals should be treated in the justice system.

“I want to make sure that dangerous youths are locked up,” said Republican Sen. Tim Neville, a sponsor of the bill. “But teenagers can do some stupid, reckless things in their life, and I want to make sure that the system provides due process and judicial oversight.”

Republican Sen. Steve King, an opponent of the bill, countered that the current system is designed to deal “with our most dangerous juvenile predators.”

“You need to know that these cases involve extremely serious crimes, with real victims who either die or their lives are changed forever,” King said

Another vote will send the proposal to governor if it’s not amended.

The measure would scale back powers that lawmakers granted prosecutors after public fears over gang violence during Denver’s “Summer of Violence” in 1993. Lawmakers supporting the bill want to reset prosecutors’ discretion in juvenile cases to what it was before 1993, limiting their ability to file adult charges on youths in only the most serious crimes, such as murder.

Colorado is among a handful of states where prosecutors can charge juveniles as adults without judicial review under a process known as “direct file.” The bill would require judges to review prosecutors’ decision to charge youths as adults.

Opponents of the bill say the proposal is an attack on prosecutors and argue that they are best equipped to make charging decisions, not judges. District attorneys and Attorney General John Suthers oppose the bill.

Supporters of the bill worry the current system has led to an overabundance of juveniles being charged as adults for mid-level felonies and that prosecutors have too much power now.

“Under current law, one prosecutor has the power to make a decision that has an extraordinary impact on the life of a teenager and his entire family,” Neville said.

The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council has said the number of direct filings against youths has decreased in the last two years because of legislative changes in 2010. The changes require prosecutors to list factors for charging a juvenile as an adult and allow 14-day waiting period for defense attorneys to present district attorneys with mitigating information.

Proponents of the legislation argue the drop in direct file cases shows that district attorneys may have been overreaching before 2010.

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

LINK: House Bill 1271

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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