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A Colorado Law That Restricts Charging Juveniles As Adults

By on Aug 22, 2012 in Blog, Boulder Colorado Law Advice Blogs | 0 comments

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1993 was an extremely violent year for Colorado, specifically, there were many violent crimes being committed by juveniles. It was so violent, that legislators toughened laws on juvenile offenses by allowing prosecutors the ability to charge minors as adults without first getting the approval from a judge. Since then, over 3,000 children have been tried as an adult in the state, 74 of those are in Mesa County alone.

House Bill 12-71

House Bill 12-71 ends the ability for district attorneys to use “direct file” in the cases of murder, rape, and a wide range of other felonies. Direct file is essentially the ability for district attorneys to charge minors as adults for certain crimes. Some district attorneys believe it’s the only feasible way to serve justice involving minors committing the most serious and violent crimes, while other juvenile defense attorneys believe that far too many minors have been tried as adults.

Opponents of HB 12-71

Opponents of the bill say that it unduly takes discretion away from prosecutors and that direct file cases were already rare, and that when they were used, it was for the most heinous and violent crimes being committed by minors who posed a direct threat to public safety. They believe that HB 12-71 not only ignores the lessons that were learned in the early 90s, but also the benefits of the direct file system, which included Colorado’s Youthful Offender System. The CYOS rehabilitated numerous juvenile offenders over the years since the initial law was passed in the 90’s.

Supporters of HB 12-71

Supporters of the HB 12-71 believe that before, the law gave Colorado prosecutors virtually unchecked power over juveniles and was being used far too broadly, charging too many minors as adults over the years. They believe children were being unfairly prosecuted, and that the process was terribly flawed. They contend that teenagers being accused of mid level crimes such as robbery and burglary were tried as adults. These felony convictions stay with them for the remainder of their life, and make it increasingly difficult to fully function as a member of our society. It is also believed that minorities were disproportionately charged more often as adults compared to other ethnicities.

Two Sides To Every Coin

Opponents make a valid point, in the sense that we do not want to children literally get away with murder. That we should not forget our states history, and that this was initially put into place for a good reason. But it’s been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It must be understood that children, 14 and 15 years old, have in the past been given life sentences and even issued the death sentence.

Now obviously to deserve the punishment, the crime was most likely terrible. However, we’re literally talking about killing a child here. Or in the least, excluding them from being able to live a normal life either by living behind bars, or being institutionalized after serving a significant amount of time, and critical moment in their developing life, in prison. None of those punishments seem to do much to help the child become rehabilitated. Now there is the CYOS, but it’s already known that 50% of felons who serve time in prison will be re-incarcerated. So it is literally the odds of a coin flip whether once you go to prison, whether or not you’ll remain there for the rest of your life.

These odds do not seem fair to many people, who believe that these minors are not given the right opportunity to grow up and live a useful and productive life. To be allowed to make amends for the wrongs done. It’s hard to not agree with this when lives have not been take. It is also quite easy to say all of this looking in from the outside, but I imagine it would be much more difficult as a parent who perhaps lost their child to a violent crime. Their child was not given that opportunity either, and they had done nothing wrong. Why then should a child who ended another life be given an opportunity to live? This question dives deeply into ethics, should we believe an eye for an eye, or rather attempt to turn the other cheek? And which of these options is the fairest to the victims, perpetrators, and society as a whole.

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