Ringing in the New Laws

January 2007

Several new laws take effect today in Colorado. They include:

One that lowers the blood alcohol level definition for persistent drunk drivers from point-two percent to point-one-seven percent. That law also requires violators to drive with an ignition interlock device. Another new law bars the public posting of a person's Social Security number or transmitting it over the Internet unless the information is encrypted. And as of today, home sale contracts must disclose whether properties were ever used as a methamphetamine laboratory, with hazardous chemicals requiring a costly cleanup.

I'm looking forward to writing this article next year, at the end of Gov. Ritter's first year in office. What laws do you want to see, and just as important, which laws would you like to see repealed? My list would begin with repealing the law that authorizes life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder.

Colorado is among 14 states where prosecutors can charge juveniles with adult crimes that could lead to life in prison with no chance of parole. With 45 people now locked away forever for crimes committed when they were younger than 18, Colorado ranks 11th in the nation for the rate at which life sentences are imposed on juveniles. ....given recent scientific research on adolescent brain development and other studies showing that some young offenders lack the maturity and competency of adults, more district attorneys and judges are open to a discussion about ways to improve how the state handles young offenders. Brain science was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court last year in overturning the juvenile death penalty.

Gov. Elect Ritter doesn't seem to agree, although other former District Attorneys do.

Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut says all teens - and adults - should be considered for rehabilitative treatment and parole. Automatic sentencing measures adopted by the General Assembly strike him as reaching outside the realm of reason, he says. "We don't want public vendettas; we want public policy for the public good," says Thiebaut, a former state legislator. "In the end, when we reflect on our crime policy, we'll see it's cost us millions or billions of dollars." But former Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter, now a gubernatorial candidate, says he has opposed previous reform efforts in part because sentencing proposals would have stripped serious crimes of adequate consequences and created inequities throughout the sentencing system. "You'd have to undo the entire juvenile sentencing structure," he says.

I hope Gov. Ritter can be persuaded otherwise.

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