Governor Polis signs criminal justice and law enforcement accountability bills into law

Published: Jul. 7, 2021 at 9:22 AM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -Governor Polis signed six bills into law to improve pre-trail detention systems, implement recommended misdemeanor reforms, improve existing police accountability laws, and ensure Coloradans involved in the criminal justice system have the right to a second chance.

“My colleagues and I made improving our criminal justice and law enforcement systems a top priority this session, and the incredible lineup of bills signed today shows it has paid off,” said Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver. “The laws we created will help us improve police-community relations and ensure our misdemeanor sentencing and pre-trial detention systems are more efficient and more fair for Coloradans. I’m proud of the work we did to advance the cause of justice.”

HB21-1250 clarifies requirements related to instances when body-worn cameras must be operating to include welfare checks. It directs the Division of Criminal Justice to create a single form to streamline the reporting requirements for peace officers. This now includes whether an ambulance was called to the scene of an incident, whether there was a forcible entry into a residence, and the number of officer-involved civilian deaths.

HB21-1250 also outlines a peace officer’s due process rights and allows an administrative law judge to participate in an internal affairs investigation. The bill defines what it means for a peace officer to be exonerated from a charge of misconduct. It extends the the elimination of qualified immunity to Colorado State Patrol. Lastly, it prohibits employers from determining whether a peace officer acted in good faith before such action in question even occurred.

“Colorado’s pre-trial systems, particularly when and how bond is set, have been in dire need of reform for a long time, and today we took a major step toward fixing them,” said Rep. Steven Woodrow, D-Denver. “The law created this afternoon will ensure that Coloradans no longer languish in our jails for long periods of time while awaiting trial on a minor offense. Colorado is on track to create a more efficient and more just system for individuals awaiting trial.”

HB21-1280 requires courts to hold an initial bond hearing with an arrested individual within 48 hours of arrival at a detention facility and allows these hearings to be conducted online or over the phone. For rural and under-resourced jurisdictions, this bill creates and funds a statewide bond hearing officer to better allow hearings to be held on weekends and holidays.

HB21-1280 also requires a defendant who has posted bond be released no later than six hours later, allows bonds to be paid by cash, money order, or cashier’s check. It ensures that a defendant receives receipt of the payment of their bond and prohibits officers from requiring bonds to be paid in the defendant’s name. Jails must establish a way to pay a bond online by January 1, 2022.

SB21-271 reduces the umber of misdemeanor classifications to two classifications, reduces the number of petty offenses to one classification, and creates a new civil infraction classification.

“Punishments in the criminal justice system aren’t designed to be permanent, but under our current system the consequences of a small mistake can follow you for a lifetime,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora. “This new law will allow Coloradans who’ve committed lower level offenses to leave their past behind and access housing, employment and other necessities without fear of being turned away because of their records.”

HB21-1214 automatically seals certain records for low-level drug offenses. The bill does not change the non-drug offenses eligible to be considered by a court for discretionary sealing and will still not apply to violent offenses, child abuse, or driving under the influence. It requires waiting periods of up to ten years depending on the offenses being considered by a court for sealing.

“Taking away a driver’s license from someone who can’t afford to pay a fine is counterproductive and plain wrong,” said Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield. “I’m proud that we were able to get this new law across the finish line this year, ensuring that our approaches to public safety are fair and just.”

HB21-1314 limits the circumstances when driver’s licenses and learners permits can be revoked to only when it is a public safety concern. It prohibits the suspension or revocation of licenses for failure to appear in court or failure to pay but does not impact revocation for driving under the influence or other offenses that reflect dangerous driving.

HB21-1315 eliminates certain fees enforced on individuals and families in the juvenile justice system. The average fees per case total about $300 in Colorado, and it is estimated that the state spends about 75% of juvenile fee revenue on collection.

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