The Colorado Legislature is posed to vote on two bills this session in an attempt to reform juvenile defense within the state of Colorado. The reforms come after the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition issued a state-wide court watching report that found over 40% of juveniles in the state of Colorado are waiving their constitutional right to an attorney under the 6th Amendment and the landmark case of In re Gault. The report found that in 3 of the 22 judicial districts in Colorado, the juvenile waiver rate was over 60% (the three districts encompass Larimer County, Garfield County, and Jefferson County). The full report can be read here.
In response to this incredibly high waiver of counsel rate, Representative Kagan introduced HB14-1032, “Defense Counsel for Juvenile Offenders.” The bill would require that the Colorado Public Defender be appointed to a majority of juvenile’s case and that before being able to waive their right to an attorney, a juvenile would have to discuss the waiver with a defense attorney. Also, a juvenile would not be able to waive their right to an attorney if they are charged with a sexual offense, a crime of violence, or a crime with a mandatory sentence. Under statute, the Public Defender may only be appointed to a case after they make a finding that the defendant is indigent. Under the new bill, the Public Defender will only look at the assets of the juvenile, and not their parents, when making a determination of indigency. Of course, parents would still be allowed to hire a private defense attorney instead of being appointed a Public Defender.
The second bill is sponsored by Senator Ulibarri and Representative Lee entitled HB14-1023 “Social Workers for Juveniles.” Under this bill, the Public Defender would receive funding to hire social workers to work with juveniles to get them out of the system. The bill would institute a more holistic approach to juvenile defense that focuses on the social factors that led to the juvenile being arrested in the first place in an effort to reduce repeated mistakes by the child. A similar program in Massachusetts resulted in a resounding success with a large drop in juvenile arrests in the state.
Both bills are currently being argued with final votes expected in the House of Representatives and the Senate coming in the next month.
Many people are under the impression that juvenile offenses are not a big deal and go away automatically when the child turns 18. This is not true. Juvenile adjudications can have a long-lasting impact on a person’s life well into adulthood. If you were convicted of a juvenile offense or your son or daughter is being charged with a crime it is imperative that you seek the advice of an attorney with experience in juvenile law. The attorneys at Peter Loyd Weber and Associates understand the nuances that are involved with juvenile defense, and have experience defending the rights of juveniles. Call us for a free consultation today at (720)863-7755.