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Prosecutors and Courts in First Judicial District Join Forces Against COVID-19
(Golden, CO – March 24, 2020) As the coronavirus, COVID-19, continues to spread and disrupt the lives of those in the First Judicial District, which includes those in the criminal justice system, the District Attorney’s Office and the District Courts have risen to the challenge. The First Judicial District serves Jefferson and Gilpin counties.
“We are working with the courts to manage the number of people in the criminal justice system in this district who are exposed to this highly contagious virus, including in-custody individuals, staff, and the public,” said DA Pete Weir. While there is an adversarial relationship between prosecutors and defense attorneys, cooperation between both sides is critical in response to their mutual enemy, COVID-19. This collaboration is committed to balancing the safety of the public while attempting to relieve the jail population.
The justice system is in a critical state. Crime will not cease. Offenders have rights but must be held accountable. Each day, newly arrested offenders have a first appearance before a judge. At any given point in time, there are thousands of cases pending in the First Judicial District. In response, the DA’s Office is actively reviewing files to identify those offenders who may be the least risk to the community and the best candidates for a personal recognizance (PR) bond and a continued hearing date. This process is not as simple as it may sound. It is not possible in every case to systematically reschedule a hearing; there may be legal issues such as the right to “speedy trial” and the constitutional rights of crime victims.
Charging a Juvenile Offender as an Adult - The Direct File Decision
One of the most difficult decisions a district attorney makes is the decision to charge a juvenile offender as an adult. There are many factors included in the analysis as to whether a youth under the age of 18 should be prosecuted as an adult.
For a juvenile to be statutorily eligible to be charged in the adult system they must commit a class one or a class two felony, or have a prior felony conviction, and then commit a crime of violence. In addition to the statutory requirements, the district attorney considers many other factors, including:
- The seriousness of the offense
- Whether the offense was a violent crime
- The impact of the offense on the victims
- Whether the juvenile offender used a deadly weapon in commission of the delinquent act
- The likelihood of the juvenile’s rehabilitation using sentencing options available in the juvenile system
- Whether the protection of the community requires consequences greater than the juvenile system allows
In 2016, in the First Judicial District, only one juvenile was charged as an adult. This teen was one of four people involved in a violent home invasion robbery and stabbing in which one of the victims was severely injured and there were children in the home. In the last five years there have been a total of 11 cases filed in which juveniles are prosecuted in the adult system. During that time period, almost 4,000 cases were filed into the Juvenile system. Less than 1% of juveniles are prosecuted in adult court.
SEXTING - Balancing the law, teens, technology, and bad choices
Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit images electronically. Young people fail to recognize the danger of sending intimate photos electronically. This is a serious challenge facing today’s youth. Sexting can have devastating social and personal consequences.
In response to the challenges created by teens who engage in sexting, the District Attorney’s Office developed the Sexting Solutions program to address the specific issues faced by teens and their parents. The program is designed as an intervention to divert from the justice system low-risk juveniles who have shared sexually explicit images of themselves or others. The gender-specific curriculum is preventative and is designed to provide insight and guidance to juveniles who have used cell phone technology to engage in sexually explicit interactions. The class addresses concepts such as boundaries, healthy relationships, body image, self-respect, risky behaviors, coping skills, peer pressure, consent and factors that impact the ability to consent, and victim impact. The program also includes a mandatory session for parents.
A Change in the Law
In the past, juvenile justice experts found that the existing laws were too extreme in most cases. The District Attorney’s Office worked with the legislature to develop more appropriate consequences for sexting behavior and in 2017 a new law was passed. Under the new law, most sexting activity between youth are misdemeanors or civil infractions. The classification of the offense depends upon a variety of things such as: whether the images were posted online or were distributed to others; how many images were found in the youth’s possession; whether there was coercion involved in obtaining the images; and whether this is a first contact for this behavior. Simple possession of a private intmat4e image is not a petty offense. In each of these cases, youth involved in sexting behaviors may be required to complete the Sexting Solutions program.