Right to Representation

(April 1) – A bill by Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, to ensure that all Coloradans who face jail time are appointed legal representation by municipal courts earned final approval from the House on a bipartisan 45-20 vote this morning.

“We have a constitutional right to representation in this country,” said Rep. Lontine. “But right now, many municipal courts in Colorado do not appoint counsel for defendants at their first court appearance. This bill ensures that any Coloradan facing jail time has access to legal counsel at this crucial stage in court proceedings.”

HB16-1309 requires counsel to be present for the defendant’s initial appearance and while the defendant remains in custody. Once released, the court must appoint an attorney if the defendant is deemed indigent and faces a potential sentence of incarceration. The court must also inform each defendant of his or her rights related to self-incrimination, counsel, trial by jury, pleas, bail and the charges against him or her.

In county and district court, a public defender is present at the first appearance and provides crucial advice and advocates for decreased bond for clients in custody facing possible jail time. But in many municipal courts in Colorado, defendants who are held in jail because they cannot afford bond routinely appear without counsel at the first appearance and often plead guilty in the hopes of being released more quickly without legal advice.

The 45-20 vote sends the bill to the Senate.

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