By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado’s district attorneys want state lawmakers to hold off on criminal justice reforms that could lighten sentences and loosen supervision after new data shows felony cases are up nearly 30 percent in the last two years.
Prosecutors say the correlating increase in violent crime like rape and murder — up 12 percent — and increase in the state’s population doesn’t explain it. They say it would be reckless to move ahead with reforms until they have answers.
“From the prosecutors’ perspective, we want to figure out why. Let’s not rush forward with more reforms until we know why,” Tom Raynes, Executive Director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, said.
He says virtually every jurisdiction in the state has seen felony cases rise by anywhere from 20 percent to 90 percent. The increase has come as state lawmakers have enacted reforms lessening sentences for some crimes and making it harder to revoke parole in others.
“The laws in late 90s and early 2000 were focused on harsher punishments, at the same time the crime rates went down. In about 2010, 2011, 2012, we started focusing on reducing sentences and softening parole mechanisms now crime rates are going up. We’re not saying there’s a correlation, but we don’t know and we certainly don’t want to make that mistake. So when you talk about new legislation that potentially lets felony conduct get a lighter sentence or get out earlier, let’s put on the brakes.”
State Sen. Daniel Kagan, who is leading many of the reforms, says stopping the reforms would be a mistake.
“It just doesn’t make sense to just stop everything because one has some questions that one hasn’t answered. The people who really ought to know best why they’re filing more cases are the people filing more cases. You can’t just say we’ll abandon our effort to make our criminal justice system work better.”
Kagan says there’s no evidence to suggest any of the reforms passed or being considered contribute to more felonies.
“We’re not seeing an increase in number of parolees who have been granted discretionary parole, according to the new guidelines, rushing out there and committing violent crimes. If we had, you would have seen evidence of that. It may well be that prosecutors feel an obligation to go forward with more cases, particularly in the area of sexual assault,” Kagan said.
The president of the District Attorneys Council, Boulder DA Stan Garnett, says that’s ridiculous. He says the reforms are ideologically driven, not fact driven. Raynes agrees, “Contrary to the popular narrative that we create felony cases, we can’t do that. We’ve got to go forward with cases that we have a reasonable likelihood of conviction on. That’s the standard that’s applied. Those are the cases that are filed and those are the ones that are in the system right now and there’s more of them.”
Garnett met with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff about the increase. He says they want to understand things like how much of it is tied to pot or opioids and how many defendants are parolees or repeat offenders. Bills that could reduce sentencing for habitual criminals and supervision for sex offenders among those being considered.