House OKs Bill to Restore Balance in Juvenile Justice System

March 19, 2012

(Denver) – A bipartisan bill to strengthen due process for minors charged with crimes won House approval today.

The 45-20 vote for HB12-1271, sponsored by Reps. B.J. Nikkel (R-Loveland) and Beth McCann (D-Denver), sends the bill to the Senate.

The measure would let a juvenile judge decide whether 14- and 15-year-olds should be prosecuted in adult court. For 16- and 17-year-olds, prosecutors would be able to file directly in adult court, but that decision would become subject to judicial review.

Currently, a prosecutor has the sole responsibility for the decision to charge a youth in adult criminal court. This crucial decision determines whether a juvenile will be sentenced to the adult prison system or the juvenile correctional system.

The state’s adult correctional facilities are ill-equipped for youthful defendants.

“Our juvenile justice system is specially designed to rehabilitate young offenders,” Rep. McCann said. “Passing this bill brings balance to Colorado’s juvenile justice system. It distributes power more evenly.”

“This bill puts the authority to decide where a child will be tried back into the hands of judges,” Rep. Nikkel said. “Judges can review both sides of a case and make a fairer, more objective analysis of where a youth should be tried.”

A related measure, HB12-1139 sponsored by Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder), ends the presumption that juveniles charged as adults will be detained in an adult jail pending trial. The bill, signed into law last week by Gov. John Hickenlooper, directs that youthful defendants be held in a juvenile facility unless a judge decides that adult jail is appropriate.

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