DENVER – A bipartisan bill criminal justice reform bill could potentially ease over-crowding in local jails. State lawmakers are looking to end cash bail for certain petty offenses and other low-level crimes.
House Bill 1225 eliminates the option for judges to impose cash bonds for criminal defendants accused of crimes below that of a misdemeanor. It would also apply to traffic violations as long as no one was killed or injured, and the defendant was not suspected of eluding a police officer or tampering with an interlock device.
“Criminal justice is an issue that is not partisan, justice is not partisan,” said bill co-sponsor Rep. Leslie Herod, (D) Denver. “We are able to work on a lot of these issues together and I look forward to talking more about them.”
The ACLU Colorado, which supports the bill, studied state court data and estimates at least 13,000 people a year would be released from jail as a result of this reform. Policy advisor Denise Maes explained what sort of offenses the bill would affect.
“Open container, the most common one is trespass, and you’ll see this a lot in the homeless community, you’ll also see past curfew in the park,” Maes said.
Other jailable offenses include having your dog off the leash or weeds that are overgrown.
“When you have a wealth based detention system that those with money get out and those with no money, good luck, stay in; that’s a broken and failed policy that we need to address,” Maes added.
Rep. Herod said the issue of fairness, regardless of wealth, is what she and her colleagues are hoping to address.
“Poverty is not a crime and what we are doing is making it so. And so, this bill will change that whole process.”
The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee on a unanimous 11-0 vote. It is expected to have a final reading on the House floor on Friday.
The Office of Legislative Legal Council believes the bill could both increase and decrease state revenue. The decrease is due to the potential loss of bond forfeitures. The state collects an average of $300,000 each year in forfeitures. However, data is unavailable by case type. So, state lawyers were unable to calculate a more accurate estimate.
The bill could also increase state revenue. The Legislative Council Staff expects the removal of jail expect that a greater number of people will fail to appear in court for traffic cases. Current state law allows traffic courts to charge $30 warrant fees to those defendants who fail to appear.