DENVER Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill Friday afternoon that limits the ability of district attorneys to charge children in adult courts.
Until now, Colorado allowed prosecutors to charge juveniles as young as 14 in adult courts for a variety of offenses. House Bill 1271 allows direct file in adult court only for suspects at least 16 years old, and only for the most serious felonies, including crimes of violence and sex assaults.
Children charged in adult court will be able to request a hearing and ask the judge to transfer the case back to juvenile court.
Hickenlooper said he almost vetoed the bill, on the advice of district attorneys, Attorney General John Suthers and former Gov. Bill Ritter. But solid bipartisan majorities in the Legislature voted for the bill.
Well be able to monitor this over the next several years. I think my role is to be a partner with the legislators, Hickenlooper said.
In 1993, the Legislature gave prosecutors greater powers to prosecute juveniles in adult court after Denvers Summer of Violence, when a series of high-profile gang crimes shook the capital city.
Suthers said prosecutors have used their power judiciously since 1993, so Hickenloopers action was discouraging.
This new law not only ignores the lessons of history, but also the benefits of the direct-file system, including Colorados Youthful Offender System, which has rehabilitated numerous juvenile offenders, Suthers said.
But times are changing in criminal justice. The Legislature voted last week to shut down the states newest super-maximum security prison, and a bipartisan coalition in the Legislature is pushing to reduce sentences for drug crimes.
We have to be very aware and listening very closely to how the world is changing, Hickenlooper said. What worked 20 years ago might not be as necessary today.
Locally, Reps. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, and Don Coram, R-Montrose, voted for HB 1271. Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, voted against it.