Criminal Justice, Law Enforcement Accountability Bills Become Law

DENVER, CO– Governor Polis today signed six bills into law to improve our pre-trial 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, sponsor of HB21-1250 and 1280 as well as SB21-271. “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.”

“Last year, Colorado set a powerful example by passing a bold police accountability reform bill that now serves as a model for the rest of the nation,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, sponsor of HB21-1250, 1314 and 1315. “This year, we set out to make necessary adjustments to the law to ensure it meets our goals of protecting our communities and holding our law enforcement to the highest standards. I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done to make our law enforcement and criminal legal systems more just. The two new laws signed today to reduce burdensome court fees and prevent the suspension of driver’s licenses for reasons that are unrelated to dangerous driving are an important part of this effort.” 

“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, sponsor of HB21-1280. “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.” 

HB21-1250 makes changes to the provisions of law enacted by SB20-217 to provide clarity and strengthen the progress made to date on its implementation. The bipartisan bill clarifies requirements related to the 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, which will now include 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.

Among other provisions, HB21-1250 explicitly 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 elimination of qualified immunity to the Colorado State Patrol and it prohibits employers from preemptively determining whether a peace officer acted in good faith before such action in question even occurred, closing a loophole in SB20-217 that was taken advantage of by the city of Greenwood Village last year.

HB21-1280 requires courts to hold an initial bond hearing with an arrested individual within 48 hours of arrival at a detention facility and changes statute to allow these hearings to be conducted online or over the phone. Some counties throughout the state already hold bond hearings six or seven days a week. 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. 

The law also makes several changes to the monetary bond process. It requires that 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, ensures that a defendant receives receipt of the payment of their bond, and prohibits officers from requirings bonds to be paid in the defendant’s name. Lastly, it requires each jail to establish a way to pay bond online by January 1, 2022.

SB21-271, also sponsored by Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, implements misdemeanor and petty offense sentencing reforms recommended by the Sentencing Reform Task Force of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. Under current law, there are three classifications for misdemeanors and two classifications for petty offenses. This law reduces the number 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, sponsor of HB21-1214. “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.” 

“Nearly half of Black men and almost 40 percent of white males are arrested by the time they are 23 years old,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, sponsor of HB21-1214. “An arrest record, even in instances when a charge was never brought, can hamper a person in devastating ways for the rest of their lives. The new law signed today gives Coloradans a second chance and ensures people aren’t forever defined by their worst mistakes.” 

Two years ago the legislature passed HB19-1275, a bill that created a process for people convicted of low level offenses to petition the court to have their record sealed, by a vote of 91-6 across both chambers. Under HB21-1214, certain records for low-level drug offenses will be automatically sealed. 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, among other exceptions in current law. It requires waiting periods of up to ten years depending on the offenses being considered by a court for sealing.

The new law shifts the onus of responsibility onto the court system, while still allowing records to be easily unsealed if there is an intervening factor, for example if the person who committed the offense is running for public office. Furthermore, comprehensive arrest data is collected under SB20-217 regarding the race, ethnicity and gender of every person arrested in Colorado in order to reveal patterns of discriminatory law enforcement practices.

“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, sponsor of HB21-1314. “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 will limit the circumstances when driver’s licenses and learners permits can be revoked to only those where public safety requires it. It prohibits the suspension or revocation of licenses for failure to appear in court or failure to pay, but does nothing to impact revocation for driving under the influence or other offenses that reflect dangerous driving. Over 100,000 Coloradans have their licenses suspended for failure to appear in court or failure to pay. This is a counterproductive punishment that makes it harder for Coloradans to pay back their debts and restricts their mobility, impacting their ability to get to work, appear in court, and care for their families.

HB21-1315, sponsored by Representative Leslie Herod, eliminates certain fees levied 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.