April 27, 2010
In 1995, 16-year-old Alan Sudduth was falsely accused of murder and sentenced to 70 years on a plea deal that devolved from a combination of ineffective counsel and the fact that the prosecutor direct filed him in adult court. He recently won a new trial based on a review of the evidence in his case.
The question, ultimately, is “why?” Why did an innocent child go to prison? I’ll let previous explanations suffice, but innocence doesn’t really seem to be a factor for prosecutors in meting out their version of “justice.”
Last week’s coverage of the consequences of Direct File in Westword is exhaustive. Joel Warner pulls out all the stops in both his article and at Westword’s blog. It is impossible to thank Westword enough and I’m certain that my lead in can’t do that coverage justice. You’ll just have to read it yourself.
April 23, 2010
Imagine that you are 15 years old. Your father has beaten you since you were 3 years old. Your mother is too scared to stop him, when she is sober that is. One night, you come home from school to find your mother wasted and your father ready to unload his wrath on you…and you snap. You grab a knife from the kitchen and fight back. A few hours later, you find yourself in jail. Then you discover you are being charged as an adult, because of the “heinous nature of your crime.” A few months after that, you find yourself, still 15, put in a prison full of full grown men, all eager to pick up where your dad left off.
This sick scenario plays out far to often in America, and Colorado seems to have more than its fair share of Direct File kids. As if the above chain of events were not bad enough, in order to “protect you,” as you live out your teen years in adult prison, the State has decreed that you are to be kept in “administrative” confinement. A lovely euphemism for solitary confinement: you are kept alone in a concrete cell for 23 hours a day.
How would this effect you? Would you be able to maintain your sanity? The odds of that are slim to none. Thanks to the Reverend Bonnie Young, you can click on this link to see what the effects of this “Administrative Confinement” are. Additionally, a Harvard Researcher, Dr. Stuart Grassian, gives his insight into the backwardness of this system in an interview he did with David Sirota. Click podcast to hear it.
Bottom line: this barbaric practice is making Colorado less safe, making criminals worse, and twisting the idea of justice into the sickening visage of revenge and torture.
April 12, 2010
Representative Claire Levy says she supports the language of a proposed community corrections referendum posted by Joe Boven at the Colorado Independent this week According to Levy, “It’s a legal fiction that [juveniles] are adult[s]. In [trying them as an adult] you’re taking away the opportunity for them to show that they matured and learned and can have a second chance.”
The referendum, as proposed, would read:
Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Colorado:
SECTION 1. 19-2-102, Colorado Revised Statutes, is amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SUBSECTION to read:
19-2-102. Legislative declaration. (3) It is the intent of the people of this state that the juvenile justice system shall at all times seek to balance the preservation of public safety with the interests of rehabilitating juvenile offenders and reducing rates of recidivism among juvenile offenders. The people of this state find and declare that public safety is enhanced and the public interest is best served through the administration of corrections programs designed to assist juvenile offenders in overcoming the factors that contributed to their criminal behavior and in developing the skills that will enable them to become productive members of society.
SECTION 2. 18-1.3-301 (2) (b) (III), Colorado Revised Statutes, is amended, and the said 18-1.3-301 (2) (b) is further amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SUB-PARAGRAPH, to read:
18-1.3-301. Authority to place offenders in community corrections programs. (2) (b) (III). Any offender who has displayed acceptable institutional behavior one hundred eighty days prior to such offender’s parole eligibility date.
(IV). Any offender sentenced pursuant to section 19-2-517 (3) (a) (I), C.R.S., or section 19-2-518 (1) (d) (I), C.R.S., and who has displayed acceptable institutional behavior, upon attaining thirty years of age.
SECTION 3. Effective Date. The effective date of this act shall be January 1, 2011.
A recent interview with Colorado Law Week has convinced me that it is time to make some fine distinctions. StopDirectFile.org supports empowering judges to decide if juveniles should be tried as adults. Filing adult charges is a practice that should be reserved to judges and used only in exceedingly rare cases, but should be a legal option for the worst juvenile offenders. StopDirectFile.org does not believe that juveniles should never be tried as adults.
In most states, the circumstances under which a juvenile can be charged as an adult are legally defined with minimum age requirements and a predetermined number of juvenile adjudications. The final decision about whether there is enough evidence to merit an adult trial rests with a judge or is, at least, subject to review by a judge upon going to trial.
In Colorado, the decision to file adult charges (based on statutory age, the nature of the crime and adjudication requirements) is left entirely up to the interpretation of a District Attorney. That’s a problem because a District Attorney is an elected official and a party to each juvenile case. They have a professional and political interest in prosecuting, not adjudicating, a child. That creates a natural conflict of interest when attempting to evaluate the evidence against a child before going to trial. A District Attorney is paid to presume a defendant’s guilt, while a judge is paid to balance public safety against a defendant’s rights.
In some ways, the direct file system makes the same person we’re paying to err on the side of guilt the judge, jury and executioner. Direct File gives the prosecutor undue leverage over the defense’s decision-making process.
For instance: As a prosecutor I can tell a juvenile defendant who I’m charging that unless he or she pleads guilty or provides testimony, I will prosecute him or her as an adult. In doing that, I am presuming guilt and forcing the defendant (whether they are guilty or not guilty) to weigh the consequences of an adult trial versus a juvenile trial.
That is not the way to get at justice for the state, the victims or the child. That’s a way to get a forced admission of guilt or biased testimony. Regardless of a District Attorney’s motive in direct filing adult charges against a child, the way it is used and its potential for abuse is wrong.
April 6, 2010
Denver, CO — The Colorado Legislative Council held a hearing on the legal status of three proposed ballot initiatives today. If passed, the initiatives would repeal direct file laws and extend community corrections eligibility to individuals who had been subject to direct file on reaching 30 years of age.
In a recent interview with Ryan Warner on Colorado Public Radio’s “Colorado Matters,” Defense Attorney Maureen Cain debated District Attorney Don Quick on the merits of abolishing Direct File.
01 Lawmakers Debate Juvenile Sentenc