DENVER (CBS4) – Juveniles can be charged as adults. Now, a Colorado lawmaker wants to charge some adults as juveniles.
Rep. Serena Gonzalez-Guttierez says while the law may consider 18 year olds as adults, science doesn’t.
“The prefrontal cortex, the decision making center, is not fully developed until around the age of 25.”
She is bringing a bill that would allow anyone between the ages of 18 and 25 who is charged with a non-violent felony to ask a judge to transfer them to juvenile court.
“The individuals that I think of are those people being convicted of drug offenses, or maybe it’s some type of theft crime, non-crime to violence,” said Gonzalez-Guttierez.
But, non-violent offenses also include things like strangulation, burglary, vehicular homicide, kidnapping, and other serious felony crimes.
“Most sex offenses are not considered crimes of violence under the law,” said Boulder County District Attorney Mike Dougherty.
He says the bill would allow most accused sex offenders – including rapists – to be treated as juveniles. Sex crimes expert Amanda Gall, with the Colorado District Attorney’s Council, says it would also drastically reduce their sentences, giving probation in most cases.
“It’s going to be a difficult conversation for prosecutors with victims and survivors of sexual assault or abuse because we will have to tell them, ‘even if we go through the traumatic experiences of trial… we will be required to recycle that offender right back into your community, and we can not guarantee that they’ll participate in any kind of treatment.'”
Gonzalez-Guttierez says she is open to amendments.
“I am all for addressing any concerns around sex offenses.”
She says the bill doesn’t eliminate consequences, rather it makes them age appropriate.
“You think about someone developmentally, the ages and the struggles they’re having. They need sometimes a second chance to get it together.”
But Dougherty argues it ignores victims and public safety and defies logic.
“We allow individuals who are of a certain age to drive, to drink, to possess firearms, to join the military. I can’t believe that we would say the only area where we don’t attach adult responsibility to them is when they do something wrong,” he said.
It’s estimated, more than 4,600 cases would be transferred to juvenile court if the becomes law, requiring 3,000 more employees in the judicial department and juvenile corrections, as well as more youth correctional facilities. The estimated cost is $375 million a year.
A legislative committee advanced the bill despite strong opposition from the Colorado District Attorney’s Council and Colorado Organization for Victims Assistance. It still needs approval from leadership in both chambers before it goes to the legislature.