Archive for the ‘ Criminal Defense ’ Category

How Does Restitution Work in Colorado

Posted on: September 18, 2017 by in Criminal Defense
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When a court orders a convicted criminal offender to pay the offender’s victim or victims for losses sustained because of the crime, that payment is called “restitution.” All fifty states have established some type of procedure for restitution payments. The functions and legal definitions of “restitution” and “compensation” are slightly different. Compensation is a payment for losses, such as payment for damages after a car accident, whether or not the person making the payment gained anything. Restitution, on the other hand, is the giving-up of the gains acquired in a crime.

A restitution payment is also somewhat different from a fine. A fine is a predetermined amount spelled out by Colorado law and paid to the court – not to the crime victim or victims – as a criminal punishment. If you’ve been charged with committing a crime in Colorado – and especially if the charge is for a crime such as theft, robbery, fraud, or embezzlement – it is imperative to understand how restitution works in this state.

When a defendant in Colorado makes any type of plea bargain or sentencing agreement with the prosecution, and when that agreement includes restitution, the failure to pay can be used in Colorado to revoke the plea bargain or agreement. If you’ve been arrested in Colorado for any crime, you must take your case to an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney who can explain your rights, your legal options, and the sentencing possibilities you will face.

HOW ARE RESTITUTION ORDERS DETERMINED AND ENFORCED?

How does restitution work in Colorado? How is it determined, ordered, collected, and distributed to crime victims? After criminal charges are filed, a district attorney’s Victim/Witness Assistance Unit contacts all known victims of the crime and asks them to complete a restitution affidavit and provide detailed information regarding their losses. The affidavits are processed and the district attorney’s office then files a motion with the criminal court for an order of restitution.

Before a final criminal sentence is handed down, the Probation Department compiles a pre-sentence investigation report (PSIR) with details about the offender’s criminal record, the pending conviction, the effect of the crime on the victim or victims, and the total amount of the restitution that is owed. Victims are asked to complete a victim impact statement.

A PSIR, including the completed victim impact statement, is then sent to the judge for his or her consideration. When a judge orders restitution, the restitution order is included as part of the final sentence. Restitution is paid through the clerk of the court.

In Colorado cases where offenders are sentenced to both a term of probation and the payment of restitution, restitution is almost always a condition of the probation. While probation officers make sure that the conditions of probation are satisfied, collection investigators in each Colorado jurisdiction establish schedules for restitution payments, monitor those payments, and enforce restitution orders.

WHAT IF A DEFENDANT ORDERED TO PAY RESTITUTION IS IMPRISONED?

In Colorado cases where the offenders are placed in the custody of the Department of Corrections, an individual account is created so that the inmate can designate funds that will be credited toward his or her restitution payments. Four times a year, the Department of Corrections transfers the money from the inmate’s account to the clerk of the court for distribution to the crime victim or victims.

As a condition of parole in Colorado, inmates who are approved for parole must make (or must have already made) restitution payments. Parole officers ensure that parolees satisfy the terms and conditions of their parole. One duty of a parole officer in the state of Colorado is to collect restitution payments from parolees who have been ordered to pay restitution. Parole officers then transfer the collected funds to the clerk of the court.

Colorado offenders who are ordered into community facilities for community corrections must be employed full-time and must turn over their paychecks for processing for restitution payments. Offenders sign a form which specifies the percentage of each paycheck that will go toward the restitution payment. The community corrections program then forwards the money collected from each paycheck to the clerk of the court.

WHAT IS A VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT?

To help judges make a decision regarding restitution, the victim impact statement spells out how a crime impacted the victim or victims physically, financially, and emotionally. The victim impact statement becomes part of the PSIR which the judge receives prior to sentencing, provided that a victim has completed and returned the statement. To ensure that judges have complete information regarding restitution, some Colorado courts – but not all – delay issuing an order of restitution and schedule a restitution hearing at a later date, after sentencing.

Even when a defendant in Colorado accepts a plea bargain and pleads guilty to a lesser charge in return for a lesser sentence, payment of restitution will probably be required as part of the plea bargain. Restitution may be ordered for, but not limited to, a crime victim’s monetary losses, medical expenses, counseling costs, anticipated future expenses, and any reward money paid out by a victim or victims. A victim’s losses that may not be included in a restitution order include losses for pain and suffering, loss of future earnings, and loss of the “enjoyment of life.”

Crime victims should not expect quick restitution payments. Payments happen over time, especially when the restitution amount is substantial, and payments hinge on the offender’s own financial circumstances, his or her employment status, incarceration status, and a number of other factors. When offenders who have been ordered to pay restitution fail to make payments in a timely manner, the court can take various measures to obtain payment.

Such measures can include wage garnishments, property liens, and the seizure of income tax refunds, lottery winnings, and other funds. Probation or parole may in some cases be revoked for failure to pay restitution.

In all matters regarding restitution and restitution orders, criminal defendants in Colorado have the right to be represented by an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney. When a defendant believes that the evidence presented in a restitution matter is false or inaccurate, the defendant has the right to challenge that evidence, and a prosecutor must prove that the restitution total being requested is a proper and just amount.

How To Defend a Gun Charge in Denver

Posted on: August 18, 2017 by in Criminal Defense
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Most of us think of a “weapons charge” as something like an armed robbery charge, and while armed robbery is indeed considered a weapons crime in the state of Colorado, weapons charges include a lot more than armed robberies.

The legal category of “weapons charges” includes offenses dealing with both the possession and the use of firearms. Weapons charges include the illegal possession of certain weapons by any person and the illegal possession of any weapons by certain persons.

The use of a weapon during the commission of a crime can also result in an additional criminal charge or a harsher penalty for the underlying charge. In Colorado, these are some of the crimes that are considered “weapons charges”: carrying a handgun without a permit, the illegal discharge of a firearm, assault with a deadly weapon, the possession of a weapon by a previous offender, enhancement of a deadly weapon, and the illegal purchase and sale of a firearm.

WHAT OTHER CRIMES ARE CONSIDERED “WEAPONS” CRIMES?

A person can be charged and prosecuted for possessing an illegal weapon even though no one was injured, threatened, or even if no one observed the weapon. The purchase, possession, and use of firearms are strictly regulated throughout this state, and some Colorado municipalities enforce their own additional firearms regulations. Denver, for example, bans assault weapons and the open carry of firearms.

Everywhere in Colorado, it is against the law:

  • for anyone who has been convicted of a felony or of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge to possess a firearm. However, in 2012, the Colorado Supreme Court recognized one exception in People vs. Carbajal, which established that a previously convicted felon may possess a firearm for the purpose of defending his home, property, or person.
  • for anyone under the age of 18 to possess a handgun, and it is also unlawful to provide or permit a juvenile to possess a handgun, with several exceptions specified by statute (such as when the juvenile is taking a hunting safety or gun safety class).
  • for anyone who is deemed to have a history of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or mental illness to possess a firearm.
  • to possess a rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches and a length shorter than 26 inches, or to possess a shotgun with a barrel shorter than 18 inches and a length shorter than 26 inches.
  • to knowingly possess a firearm if the manufacturer’s serial number or other identifying mark has been defaced or removed.
  • to own, sell, or transfer a “large capacity” magazine that can hold more than fifteen rounds or can be easily converted to hold more than fifteen rounds. The statute does not apply to anyone who owned such a magazine on July 1, 2013 (when the law took effect) and has maintained continuous possession since that time.

If you are charged with any violation of a weapons law in Colorado, you will need to consult at once with an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney. How can your attorney best defend you against a weapons charge in this state?

What follows is a brief and general explanation of the basic defenses that are typically offered – often with success – when a defendant is accused of a Colorado weapons violation. Of course, every case and every defendant is unique, so anyone who is facing an actual, specific firearms charge in Colorado should have the advice and representation that an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney can offer.

WHAT ARE THE BASIC DEFENSES AGAINST WEAPONS POSSESSION CHARGES?

A number of weapons charges in Colorado require time in prison upon conviction. If you face a firearms charge in the Denver area, it’s like any other criminal charge. You have the constitutional right to remain silent. Be reasonable and polite to the police officers who arrest and book you, but do not answer any of their questions until you can speak with a good criminal defense lawyer.

Clearly, the most basic defense against a charge based on the illegal possession of a weapon is the defense that the defendant was not in fact in possession of the weapon. In such cases, the prosecutor must “link” or tie the defendant to the weapon, and if no links or ties can be solidly established, the state’s case may be weak.

A second possibility – for defendants who are allowed to own legal weapons – may be the defense that the weapon in question was not in fact illegal. Colorado law spells out several exceptions which may apply in some weapons possession cases. State law, however, allows no exceptions for gun collectors or for antique firearms.

WHAT IS THE PENALTY FOR ILLEGALLY POSSESSING A FIREARM?

If you violate a firearms law, and if you are convicted, you will face serious penalties in Colorado. Buying or otherwise acquiring a firearm in Colorado, when someone is prohibited from owning a firearm or when someone knows that the weapon is illegal, is a Class 4 felony in this state, punishable upon conviction by two to six years in prison, a fine of $2,000 to $500,000, or both a fine and imprisonment.

If someone is charged with using a firearm illegally, the basic legal defenses are similar to the defenses against any type of assault charge. The possible defenses include self-defense, mutual consent, or proving that the “weapon” was not, in fact, a weapon. For example, robbers will sometimes place a hand in a jacket or coat pocket to pretend to have a gun.

Even if a defendant is later convicted for the robbery, if that defendant and his or her defense attorney can prove that there was no weapon used in the commission of the robbery, the conviction will not be for the more serious charge of armed or “aggravated” robbery.

Still, you could be accused of a weapons violation because of a misunderstanding, a misidentification, or even because of a story that has been entirely fabricated. Whatever the truth is, if you are arrested and charged with a weapons crime in this state, your attorney will find the truth and fight diligently in your defense. If you are charged with a weapons crime in the Denver area or anywhere in Colorado, you must have the aggressive defense that an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney can offer.

Have a Warrant in Denver County? Here’s What To Do

Posted on: July 23, 2017 by in Criminal Defense
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In Colorado, arrest warrants are authorized and issued by judges, and if there is an arrest warrant in this state with your name on it, you can be taken into custody without notice at any time. The law in Colorado requires an arrest warrant for a suspect if the alleged crime has been committed outside the view of police officers.

However, before a Colorado judge will issue an arrest warrant, “probable cause” for the warrant must be established. When a crime is observed by a police officer – driving under the influence, for example – no warrant is needed for the officer to make the arrest.

A law officer has “probable cause” to make an arrest or to request an arrest warrant when that officer has enough evidence to support the belief that a crime has been committed by a particular suspect. In a typical DUI arrest, for example, the suspect’s observable driving behavior is usually enough to provide reasonable cause. But when it’s a crime that no law officer observed, the evidence must be obtained from sources such as interviews with witnesses, clues found at the crime scene, and pertinent documents.

A Colorado defense lawyer can learn if there is a warrant for your arrest and precisely what the charge is. In some cases, an attorney can arrange for you to turn yourself in without a formal arrest procedure. In other cases, if there’s no strong or substantial evidence against you, a good defense attorney may be able to have the charge dropped or reduced before an arrest is made or may be able to reach some other agreement with the prosecutor.

WHAT CONSTITUTES A VALID COLORADO ARREST WARRANT?

A valid Colorado arrest warrant is issued by a judge, names (or describes, if no name is available) the suspect, spells out the exact charge or charges, and indicates the evidence upon which probable cause for the arrest is based. If you are arrested in or near Denver for any crime, you’re going to need reliable counsel immediately. Don’t try to be your own lawyer. Even if the charge is a misdemeanor or a first offense, too much is at stake.

Arrange as soon as possible after an arrest in the Denver area to meet with an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney who can review the allegation against you, explain your legal rights and options, and advocate aggressively in your defense. If you are in police custody, politely insist on your right to remain silent and your right to have an attorney present during questioning. Let an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney represent and defend you.

If you flee the state after finding out that there is a warrant for your arrest, you become a fugitive, and when you are found, you will probably be extradited. Extradition may be contested in court in the jurisdiction where the arrest is made, but if a criminal suspect is extradited back to Colorado, that suspect will face additional penalties for fleeing from justice along with the initial criminal charge.

WHAT OTHER WARRANTS DO THE COURTS USE?

Arrest warrants are among the several types of warrants used in our legal system. A “bench warrant” is in most cases an arrest warrant that is issued when a suspect fails to make a scheduled court appearance. A search warrant, like an arrest warrant, must also be based on probable cause. A search warrant gives police officers the authority to conduct a search, at a specified place and time, for evidence related to a crime.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, however, limits the power of law enforcement officers to search persons and properties and to seize evidence. The Constitution offers no precise definition of “probable cause,” but the established legal standard is that law enforcement officers must identify specific activities and facts about a crime and a suspect to establish probable cause. Hunches, feelings, and subjective suspicions that cannot be verified are insufficient.

“Sneak and peek” warrants are rare. They allow law enforcement officers to enter a residence or other premises without an occupant’s or an owner’s knowledge or consent. A sneak and peek warrant must be based on strong evidence that a crime has been committed. During a “sneak and peek,” law officers may only observe, but their observations may be used to establish reasonable cause for a search warrant.

While the sneak and peek is defended as a tool for fighting terrorism, it’s also used to investigate drug and weapons crimes. Police officers haven’t always followed the rules with sneak and peek warrants, and the use of these warrants remains controversial.

WHAT ABOUT TRAFFIC WARRANTS AND CIVIL WARRANTS?

Every driver in the state of Colorado should know that a traffic citation warrant may be issued for almost any traffic violation – from unpaid traffic tickets to serious offenses like reckless driving. If you should fail to appear for a scheduled court date on a traffic matter, or if you overlook paying a traffic fine, the state of Colorado could issue an arrest warrant with your name on it. A Denver criminal defense attorney can help you if that happens, but the best policy is to take any traffic citation seriously and deal with it immediately.

“Civil” warrants can be issued in Colorado for civil proceedings such as small claims court cases. If your name is on a Colorado civil warrant, you will be told appear in a civil court at a specific courtroom, date, and time. Failure to appear – that is, failure to respond to a civil warrant – means that you forfeit the case and the other party wins, which in turn means that you will probably have to pay damages.

A child support warrant may be issued in this state when a parent who has been ordered by a court to make child support payments fails to do so. If you are a Colorado parent who is not receiving the child support payments owed to you, you have the right to take legal action to compel the other parent to pay. If the delinquent parent fails to appear for a hearing, an arrest warrant may be issued.

If you are placed under arrest in this state for any reason, contact an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney immediately. If you believe that any of your rights were violated by police officers at any point during your investigation, arrest, or time in custody, tell your attorney at once. Don’t hesitate to seek legal help right away if you are the subject of an arrest warrant or a search warrant in Colorado. It is your right.

Colorado Governor Signs New Civil Asset Forfeiture Law

Posted on: June 22, 2017 by in Criminal Defense
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Civil asset forfeiture is a controversial legal procedure and a growing concern across the nation. It’s the seizure of assets by law enforcement authorities from persons suspected of criminal involvement or activity – without necessarily filing any criminal charges against those persons. In June, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed a controversial new law which restricts the way civil asset forfeitures are handled in this state.

To be precise, civil asset forfeiture is more than the mere seizure of someone’s assets. When the government takes any part of someone’s assets, it’s called “asset seizure.” Asset “forfeiture” is the legal process whereby the government takes legal ownership of assets it has seized. Property is forfeited when that process is complete and the legal title to the assets transfers to the government.

WHAT IS THE JUSTIFICATION FOR CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE?

Supporters of civil asset forfeiture promote it as a tool for fighting organized crime and drug traffickers, since the procedure allows authorities to confiscate cash and other assets from narcotics traffickers and then use that cash to pay for the enforcement of drug laws. Critics of civil asset forfeiture contend that the innocent can have their right to property violated with few legal protections or due process rules to protect them.

Opponents of civil asset forfeiture have further contended that it creates a presumption of guilt rather than a presumption of innocence, and that it invariably leads to corruption and violations of citizens’ constitutional rights by police authorities. Thus, organizations such as the ACLU of Colorado urged Governor Hickenlooper to sign the controversial new restrictions. “Coloradans,” the ACLU declared, “want and deserve stronger protections when

“Coloradans,” the ACLU declared, “want and deserve stronger protections when property is taken by police.” The new measure was co-sponsored in the Colorado General Assembly by State Representative Leslie Herod and State Senator Tim Neville.

However, a number of Colorado law enforcement and local government officials insist that the new measure will impair law enforcement’s abilities in Colorado by reducing the resources available to the state’s local police agencies. “I think this is a solution looking for a problem,” Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey told the Denver Post. Activists who focus on the fight against human trafficking also asked Governor Hickenlooper to veto the legislation, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

WHAT DOES THE NEW LAW REQUIRE?

The new statute requires police agencies to report information about asset seizures twice each year to the state. However, the law’s most controversial provision would prohibit local law enforcement agencies from receiving any forfeited assets from the federal government in cases where local and federal police work together and the money and property forfeited amounts to less than $50,000.

Colorado Springs Police Chief Carey said that in the past five years alone, his department has received $2 million in forfeitures from cases where Colorado Springs officers worked with federal law enforcement agencies. Chief Carey told the Denver Post, “Of those cases, 85 percent of them did not meet the $50,000 threshold. So that means 15 percent of that would be equitable sharing in the future.” In 2014, Colorado police agencies received about $2.8 million of the $13.5 million seized by federal law enforcement officials in Colorado that year.

Civil asset forfeiture was actually quite rare prior to 1984, when Congress approved the Comprehensive Crime Control Act and thus established a special fund that shares forfeited assets with the law enforcement agencies that helped seize those assets. Local police agencies that work with federal authorities are rewarded with a share of the forfeited assets through a program called Equitable Sharing. Soon after 1984, most states started establishing their own civil forfeiture laws.

WHAT WAS THE CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE REFORM ACT?

Abuses quickly followed, and critics insisted that civil asset forfeiture is an unconstitutional violation of due process rights. In 2000, Congress passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act. It requires federal prosecutors to prove “a substantial connection between the property and the offense,” but critics contend that the Reform Act has done little to stop abuses linked to civil asset forfeiture, and there are still no penalties for wrongful seizures and forfeitures. Louis Rulli, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading forfeiture authority, told the New Yorker, “The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window.”

The federal Equitable Sharing program allows local police across the nation to sidestep state-imposed forfeiture rules by deeming suspected criminal activity to be a federal crime and bringing in federal authorities. Equitable Sharing thus subverts the intent of legislatures that have restricted civil asset forfeiture at the state level. The new statute here in Colorado checkmates that problem by simply prohibiting participation in Equitable Sharing when the money and property forfeited amounts to less than $50,000.

Supporters of the new Colorado forfeiture statute say that the $50,000 threshold figure protects poor and average-income citizens from civil asset forfeiture abuse while still allowing local law enforcement agencies to profit when they work on cases against organized crime and major drug trafficking operations. The only states that have outlawed civil asset forfeiture entirely are North Carolina and New Mexico.

Criminal forfeiture is a different procedure and a penalty that can be imposed against a defendant after a criminal conviction. If you are charged or being investigated for any crime in Colorado, you could be targeted for civil or criminal asset forfeiture, and you’ll need to get some legal advice – and possibly criminal defense representation – from an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney.

Even though you can be targeted for civil asset forfeiture without necessarily being charged with a crime, it’s still wise to consult a Denver criminal defense attorney if you learn that you are the subject of any criminal investigation. If you’re contacted by the police, do not agree to an interview or provide a statement – even if police officers tell you that “everything will be fine if you just cooperate.”

Anything you say to the police can be used against you, so trust only your attorney if you are under investigation by any law enforcement agency for any reason. In some cases, of course, an investigation cannot be resolved and an arrest cannot be stopped. In this situation, make sure that you are represented by an experienced defense lawyer who can bring your case to its best possible resolution.

What Are The Gun Laws In Denver?

Posted on: May 20, 2017 by in Criminal Defense
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Mass shootings. Assault weapons. Gun control. Regardless of where you stand on these perennially controversial topics, everyone in Colorado should know what this state’s laws are regarding guns, gun ownership, and concealed carry permits. This is a general explanation of gun laws in Colorado, but anyone who is charged with a particular firearms violation in this state will need the precise and specific legal advice that an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney can provide.

A number of laws regulate the purchase, ownership, and use of firearms in Colorado. The foundation of Colorado’s gun laws is the distinction it makes between handguns and long guns. To own either gun in this state, no permit, registration, or license is required by law.

The state allows both open and concealed carry, although concealed carry permits are approved only for handguns and never for long guns. Moreover, local governments in Colorado have the discretion in most cases to restrict guns, gun ownership, and gun use beyond what the statewide gun laws require.

A background check is required by federal law for all private firearms sales. Background checks in Colorado exceed what the federal law requires. Even for a private sale between two Colorado residents, the seller must have a licensed gun dealer conduct a background investigation on his or her behalf.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation must be informed of all gun ownership changes. The buyers are responsible to pay for the background checks. Gun show purchases also require background checks whether the seller is a licensed dealer or a private individual.

HOW IS A CONCEALED CARRY LICENSE OBTAINED IN COLORADO?

Concealed carry licenses in Colorado are issued in each county by the Sheriff’s department. A concealed carry license expires after five years. Applicants must successfully complete a concealed carry class. Concealed carry licenses allow gun owners to carry their weapons throughout Colorado except on federal properties, grade school (K-12) premises, and buildings like courthouses that have security desks or checkpoints.

To obtain a Colorado concealed carry license, you must be a resident of Colorado and a resident of the county where you apply for the license. You’ll need to answer some personal questions and you must answer them truthfully.

You’ll be photographed, fingerprinted, and subjected to a background check. If you are approved to use medical marijuana in Colorado, you might not be approved for a concealed carry permit because pot is still illegal under federal law.

WHAT IS THE COLORADO LAW REGARDING OPEN CARRY?

In most cases, if you meet Colorado’s legal requirements for a concealed carry permit, the permit will be approved. However, county Sheriff’s departments have wide discretion and may refuse to issue a concealed carry permit – even if the applicant qualifies – if the department believes the applicant may be a threat to public safety.

Open carry is allowed without a license in Colorado, but it is subject to local regulation. For example, open carry is not allowed in Denver. Rifles and shotguns openly carried in motor vehicles in this state cannot have a round in the chamber. Local governments may restrict open carry in municipal buildings with clear, visibly posted signs.

The state of Colorado does not ban assault rifles, but the city of Denver bans all assault weapons. Large capacity magazines (LCMs) are restricted to fifteen rounds. This state recognizes the “castle” doctrine, which allows residents to use deadly force inside their homes to protect themselves and others from intruders. However, there is no “stand your ground” law in Colorado, so anyone who feels threatened outside of his or her home must attempt to retreat first and may only use deadly force as a last resort.

Minors, persons with felony convictions, and those with a history of drug use, alcohol problems, mental illness, or domestic violence may not possess a gun in this state. Colorado exceeds federal domestic violence requirements by requiring those with civil protection orders (restraining orders) issued against them to turn in any guns they own – and not obtain more – for the duration of the protection order. A conviction for domestic violence prevents the offender from purchasing or owning a firearm legally in Colorado.

WHAT ARE SOME OF COLORADO’S OTHER GUN LAWS?

Even if you own a gun legally in Colorado, you may face a criminal charge for using a firearm illegally. Aiming a gun at someone, recklessly discharging a firearm, or possessing a firearm while under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances all constitute the prohibited use of a firearm, a class 2 misdemeanor punishable upon conviction by a term of three to twelve months in jail, a fine of $250 to $1,000, or both.

Purchasing or otherwise obtaining a firearm in Colorado – when you know it is illegal to do so – is a class 4 felony punishable upon conviction by two to six years in prison, a fine of $2,000 to $500,000, or both. The private transfer of firearms in Colorado – that is, sales or transfers of firearms between non-licensed firearms dealers – is legal provided that both parties adhere to all applicable state and federal laws. The illegal transfer of a firearm is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable upon conviction by six to eighteen months in jail, a fine of $500 to $5,000, or both.

Defacing a firearm or possessing a defaced firearm is also a class 1 misdemeanor. Defaced firearms are illegal in this state, and a court may order law officers to seize and destroy defaced firearms. Possession of a handgun by anyone under the age of 18 is a class 2 misdemeanor, but a second conviction is a class 5 felony punishable upon conviction by one to three years in prison, a fine of $1,000 to $100,000, or both.

Exceptions, however, may apply to minors who are hunting legally, enrolled in certified gun safety courses, or on private property owned or controlled by the minor’s parent(s), grandparent(s), or legal guardian – with that adult’s consent.

Forfeiture is also a part of Colorado’s gun laws. If you are convicted of any crime in Colorado that includes the use of a firearm, the court may order you to relinquish that firearm. Once again, what is listed here is merely a general outline of Colorado’s gun laws. Anyone with more questions and anyone who is accused of a specific gun violation in Colorado should seek an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney to provide sound, personalized legal advice, and if needed, effective defense representation.

Denver Is The First City In The U.S. To Allow Marijuana Use In Restaurants And Bars – Or Is It?

Posted on: December 22, 2016 by in Criminal Defense
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On November 8, the voters of Denver approved Initiative 300, a ballot measure originally allowing bars, restaurants, and other types of businesses to create onsite “consumption areas” for marijuana use that are either indoors (to permit vaping and edibles but not smoking) or outdoors (to allow smoking). Denver would have been the first city in the United States with “cannabis lounges” and “marijuana cafes.” But in yet another strange twist in this strangest of election years, it now appears that state officials will step in to prevent certain businesses in Denver from obtaining pot consumption permits.

Only ten days after the November election, the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Liquor Enforcement Division announced that businesses holding liquor licenses will not be permitted to become cannabis bars. The announcement was welcomed by the Colorado Restaurant Association and by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Both groups expressed apprehensions about people consuming pot and alcohol simultaneously and publicly. The Colorado Restaurant Association also stated that “several insurance companies have already indicated to us that they will not insure restaurants and bars that allow marijuana consumption.”

Some pro-pot activists immediately charged that the Department of Revenue was acting on behalf of the liquor industry. Speaking for the National Marijuana Policy Project, Mason Tvert told the Los Angeles Times, “This rule will not prevent bar-goers from consuming marijuana, but it will ensure that they consume it outside in the alley or on the street rather than inside of a private establishment.” The Department of Revenue, however, says that the new rule was not linked to the passage of Initiative 300 in Denver – despite the timing of the announcement.

WHAT DID INITIATIVE 300 LEGALIZE?

Originally, Initiative 300 allowed Denver’s bars and restaurants to apply for permits allowing consumption areas that would let customers use marijuana with some restrictions. Customers would have to be adults and bring their own weed. However, the new rule announced by the Department of Revenue doesn’t necessarily disqualify coffee houses, cafes, art galleries, yoga studios, and similar venues from submitting applications for pot consumption permits.

Initiative 300 is supposed to be a four-year “pilot” program. It was approved by 53.4 percent of Denver’s voters, and it was expected to increase tax revenue, particularly from tourists visiting the Denver area. Marijuana for recreational use by adults in this state became legal in 2014 after Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, but tourists who arrive in Denver for the cannabis quickly discover that hotels, bars, and restaurants won’t allow it. For now, marijuana consumption in this state is legal only in private residences and in a small number of obscure “cannabis-only clubs” that several Colorado jurisdictions have approved.

Rachel O’Bryan led the opposition to Initiative 300 in Denver as the campaign manager for the group “Protect Denver’s Atmosphere.” Ms. O’Bryan now wants the Colorado attorney general, Cynthia Coffman, to examine the legality of Initiative 300. “We used to have a problem with people smoking pot in the parks and now they will be smoking in our neighborhoods,” Ms. O’Bryan said.

WHAT DO PRO-POT ACTIVISTS SAY ABOUT INITIATIVE 300?

Still, and in spite of the many obstacles that the ballot initiative has faced, some pot activists insist that Initiative 300 is a positive, progressive step forward. Mason Tvert told the Los Angeles Times, “This is a groundbreaking law that reflects the shift in public attitude toward marijuana. The first was legalizing marijuana, and now the next step is to ensure that adults who legally purchase it have a place they can legally use it.”

State Representative Jonathan Singer also supported Initiative 300 as a positive, progressive step forward. Representative Singer told the Denver Post that the initiative would “be a good bellwether to see whether there’s a real appetite among the electorate to solve this problem” of visitors and Denver residents having nowhere they can consume marijuana when landlords don’t allow it.

Before Initiative 300 takes effect in January, Denver’s Office of Marijuana Policy will be designing the application form that businesses will submit to apply for onsite cannabis consumption areas. Dan Rowland, communications advisor for the City and County of Denver, says, “There’s a lot of work to be done in terms of how someone would go about applying for this permit and the time frame that will happen between now and then. Folks may be lining up to challenge it in the interim, just on the potential conflict with the state constitution.”

IS INITIATIVE 300 ON SHAKY LEGAL GROUND?

That’s because Amendment 20, the ballot measure that legalized marijuana for medical purposes in Colorado in 2000, clearly states: “No patient shall…engage in the medical use of marijuana in plain view of, or in a place open to, the general public.” In addition to Amendment 20’s clear language, the vaguer language of Amendment 64 could also be used in a potential legal challenge to Initiative 300. The bottom line is that, even though Initiative 300 was approved by the voters in November, Denver’s residents and visitors should not expect to take advantage of the ballot measure any time in the near future.

While marijuana for recreational use by adults in Colorado has been legal since 2014, driving under the influence remains a serious crime. It doesn’t matter if a driver is drunk on alcohol or high on pot – it’s the same criminal charge, and anyone facing the charge in the Denver area will need the counsel of an experienced Denver DUI attorney. Even a conviction for a first DUI without injuries or property damage is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

As you celebrate this holiday season, don’t drink and drive, and don’t smoke weed and drive. It’s that simple. This is the season when Colorado law enforcement agencies conduct more DUI checkpoints and focus on finding impaired drivers. While an experienced Denver DUI attorney can help suspects accused of driving under the influence, there’s no reason to ruin the holidays with DUI trouble. Before you drink, arrange for a limousine, a taxicab, a ride-share service, or a designated driver, or rent a room for the night. Pot is legal in Denver, so there’s no reason to get in legal trouble for using it.

Colorado Passes Cosby Law and Extends Statute of Limitations For Rape

Posted on: August 21, 2016 by in Criminal Defense
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Comedian Bill Cosby may or may not ultimately face justice for the sex crimes he has allegedly committed since the 1960s, but two of his accusers have won a different victory here in Colorado. Beth Ferrier, 57, of Denver, and Heidi Thomas, 56, of Castle Rock, lobbied aggressively to extend Colorado’s statute of limitations in rape and sexual assault cases. After a year-long effort, they succeeded, and Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill on June 10.

The new statute of limitations in rape and sexual assault cases, a response to the Bill Cosby rape allegations, doubles the statute of limitations to twenty years in Colorado. However, the statute is not retroactive, so Ferrier and Thomas will not be able to file charges against Bill Cosby in Colorado, but the women – both allegedly assaulted by Cosby in the 1980s – hope the new legislation will encourage more victims of rape and sexual assault to come forward, even ten or fifteen years later.

The legislation was sponsored by State Representative Rhonda Fields of Aurora, Senator John Cooke of Greeley, and Senator Mike Johnston from northeast Denver. “What we know is the path for survivors of sexual assault is uphill already,” Johnston told reporters after the governor signed the bill. “Justice is already elusive for victims of sexual assault. It makes no sense for Colorado to close the doors on those people who have the courage to try to seek it and say you can’t have your day in court.”

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In the 1980s, Ms. Ferrier and Ms. Thomas were both employed as models with the Denver talent agency JF Images. Both say they were drugged and then sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby. Ms. Ferrier told reporters, “For me this is from this day forward, making sure that those one in four women come forward, and those one in seventeen men come forward. Do not keep this a secret, and don’t stay silent, and don’t become depressed, and don’t do all the things that come with being a victim of sexual assault.”

WHY WAS THE NEW LEGISLATION NEEDED?

Neither woman reported the incidents when they happened because they feared that challenging Cosby would negatively impact their careers, they said. They both also said that they had been in denial about the assaults. Advocates of the new legislation contended that a longer statute of limitations is proper in such cases, because victims often need years to deal with the psychological impact of sexual assault before they gain the confidence to come forward.

Heidi Thomas, who was unable to attend the signing ceremony at the governor’s office due to family commitments, told reporters, “We are very proud of this bill, and we are very excited that it was able to pass in one year. I’m very proud of our legislators for seeing what really needed to be done. Hopefully, they see that this is one step of the process, but for right now we are going to celebrate.”

Bill Cosby has been the subject of sexual assault allegations for nearly two decades. Cosby has been accused by more than fifty women of rape, drug-facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual misconduct going back to the mid-1960s. He has denied the allegations. Most of the actions alleged by Cosby’s accusers now fall outside the statutes of limitations for legal proceedings. Numerous civil lawsuits against Cosby are still pending, and he still faces one felony charge of aggravated indecent assault in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE ACCUSED OF A SEX CRIME?

A number of sex crimes are against the law in the state of Colorado. Clearly, no one wants to be convicted of a rape or a sexual assault charge. Apart from the very real consequences of a sex crime conviction – fines, prison, and lifetime sexual offender status – a convicted sex offender will also lose the trust of his or her friends, family, and colleagues, and may even have difficulty finding employment or housing.

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For anyone who is charged with a sex crime in the state of Colorado, it is absolutely essential to retain the services of an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney who can protect your legal rights while defending you against the charge. Never try to act as your own lawyer, and never plead guilty or even answer any questions without having a Denver criminal defense attorney present. Sometimes the accusation of a sex crime can be completely discredited, and sometimes the charge can be reduced, but a winning defense in a sexual assault case will always require the skills of an experienced defense attorney.

WHAT ARE COLORADO’S PENALTIES FOR SEX CRIMES?

The penalties for each sex crime in Colorado vary based on a number of “aggravating” factors that can increase a perpetrator’s criminal responsibility: for example, the perpetrator used a deadly weapon to force submission, the perpetrator used a date rape drug to force submission, or the victim suffered serious bodily injury. These are the charges and penalties that a sexual assault suspect can face in Colorado:

  1. Class 1 misdemeanor: This is the charge when a victim of sexual assault is between 15 and 17 years of age and the alleged perpetrator is ten or more years older. If convicted, a defendant faces from six to eighteen months in jail and a fine from $500 to $5,000.
  2. Class 2 felony: This is the charge if the victim sustained serious physical injury, if more than one person aided or abetted in the alleged assault, or if a deadly weapon was used. Those convicted of the Class 2 felony charge face eight to twenty years in prison, years of parole after the prison term, and a fine from $5,000 to $1 million.
  3. Class 3 felony: This is the charge when a victim is both physically helpless and non-consenting, or when violence, injury, pain, death, kidnapping, or retaliation is threatened or actually take place. Penalties for a Class 3 felony conviction include four to sixteen years in prison, years of parole after the prison term, and a fine from $3,000 to $750,000.
  4. Class 4 felony: Any sex crime that does not fall into one of the three other categories can be prosecuted as a Class 4 felony. Those convicted of a Class 4 felony face two to eight years in prison followed by a three-year parole period and a fine ranging from $2,000 to $500,000.

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Denver Mayor Calls For Colorado Criminal Reform

Posted on: July 15, 2016 by in Criminal Defense
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hit-and-run

The mayor of Denver, Michael B. Hancock, recently called for reforms to criminal justice policies that “have had disastrous effects on our communities of color” in the state of Colorado. The mayor writes that the state’s “drug laws and policies of incarceration” are “proving to be a failure,” and he advocated a number of sweeping reforms in a guest commentary published June 11 in the Denver Post.

Mayor Hancock writes, “the time is ripe for change in our criminal justice system,” and he insists that Colorado must alleviate prison overcrowding and what he calls “mass incarceration.” He’s right. From 1980 through 2008, the number of prisoners incarcerated in the United States rose from a half-million to 2.3 million, and in 2008, 58 percent of those prisoners were Hispanic or African-American. Currently, 36,000 people in Colorado are behind bars in the state’s jails and prisons, and a total of 123,000 are incarcerated or under criminal justice supervision.

Murphy - 2008 Racial Breakdown
The caseload has simply become too much for the Colorado Department of Corrections to handle. In 2014, the Denver Post published a series of investigative articles by Jennifer Brown, who reported that the Department of Corrections, by default, has become the largest mental health treatment facility in Colorado. A third of Colorado’s inmates, about 5,760 prisoners, have psychological problems. One-fifth of the Denver County Jail’s inmates as of 2014 struggled with some form of mental illness. If someone is arrested in the Denver area for any reason, it’s vital for that person to speak immediately with an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney.

HAS THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM CHANGED IN THE DENVER AREA?

However, according to the mayor, both Denver’s Sheriff’s Department and Police Department have recently implemented comprehensive policy changes and reforms. Jail is no longer the automatic response to the chronic mental health and substance-abuse challenges that face the Denver community. Courts and law enforcement now look to place individuals confronting such challenges in treatment programs rather than jails.

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According to the mayor, under Chief Robert White, the Denver Police Department has become the singular model for criminal justice reform across the United States. The department has been part of an international effort to address the concerns of those individuals most affected by the legal system. While there is much more work to do, the mayor says that Denver’s citizens should be proud that our city is considered a leader in criminal justice reform.

In his guest commentary, Mayor Hancock also advocates a federal legislative proposal – the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 – currently under consideration by the United States Senate. If passed into law, the bill would reform the federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws that have led to overcrowded prisons and wasted tax dollars. The bill would fund additional treatment programs for inmates and allow federal resources to be used effectively to keep Colorado communities safe as some communities can be more dangerous than others. In addition to treatment programs there are scholarships specific to Colorado, local community support programs and public health support.

WHAT IS THE SENTENCING REFORM AND CORRECTIONS ACT OF 2015?

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is a chance for federal lawmakers to implement substantial criminal justice reforms at the federal level, a change that Colorado’s citizens have already supported at the state and local levels. Citizens are encouraged to contact their congressional representative as well as U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner regarding the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. The mayor concludes his guest commentary by saying, “I urge Congress to pass this important piece of legislation.” If it becomes law, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 would:

  • Reduce the mandatory minimum life without parole sentence for a third drug offense under Title 21 of the United States Code, sections 841 and 851, to a mandatory minimum 25-year sentence.
  • Reduce the mandatory minimum 20-year sentence for a second drug offense under Title 21 U.S.C. sections 841 and 851 to a mandatory minimum 15-year sentence.
  • More narrowly define which prior drug offenses trigger longer mandatory minimum drug sentences under Title 21 U.S.C. sections 841 and 851.
  • Apply the 15-year and 25-year mandatory minimum drug sentences to offenders who now have broadly-defined “serious violent felony” prior convictions.
  • Make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive, allowing approximately 5,800 crack cocaine offenders sentenced before August 2010 to seek sentences in line with the Fair Sentencing Act’s reforms.
  • Expand the “safety valve” exception so that in some cases nonviolent drug offenders can receive sentences below the mandatory minimum term.
  • Create an additional safety valve exception for drug offenders facing 10-year mandatory minimum sentences so that they can receive the 5-year mandatory minimum prison term under certain conditions.
  • Clarify that the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for a second or subsequent offense of possessing guns in the course of drug trafficking offenses or crimes of violence under Title 18 U.S.C. section 924(c) only applies when the prior 924(c) conviction is final prior to the commission of the new 924(c) offense.
  • Apply the 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for the second or subsequent section 924 offenses to offenders who have broadly-defined prior convictions for crimes that include gun possession, brandishing, or discharge.
  • Allow some federal prisoners to earn time credits for completing rehabilitation programs and “cash in” those time credits at the end of their sentences for a transfer to a different type of supervision such as a halfway house.
  • Create a new mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for interstate domestic violence resulting in a death and five years for providing certain weapons or aid to terrorists.
  • Create a new, mandatory sentencing enhancement to drug offenses under Title 21 U.S.C. sections 841 and 960. If the drugs in question include an analogue or any amount of the drug fentanyl, or if the drugs involved were represented as heroin, courts must add up to an additional 5 years in prison to an offender’s sentence.

WHERE ELSE IS THE JUSTICE SYSTEM BEING REFORMED?

Reforms to the criminal justice system are happening rapidly across the nation. In 2014, California’s Proposition 47 reclassified low-level property and drug felonies such as shoplifting, theft, and check fraud under $950, as well as personal illicit drug use, as misdemeanors. In New York City, thousands charged with low-level or non-violent crimes no longer have to post bail under a new plan to lower the number of inmates in the city’s crowded jail system.

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Of course, if you commit a crime in the Denver area, you’ll still be arrested, and you’ll still need the counsel of an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney. Nevertheless, the United States is slowly, step-by-step creating a criminal justice system that is fair, that does not discriminate, and that genuinely delivers justice to citizens throughout Colorado and the other forty-nine states.

Colorado will Require All Police Officers to Undergo Psych Evaluations

Posted on: June 9, 2016 by in Criminal Defense
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Across the United States, more and more jurisdictions are requiring police officers and police officer candidates to pass full psychological evaluations. In December 2015, for example, the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board reaffirmed that passing a psychological evaluation is a requirement for every police officer in the state. Officers must be evaluated every time an officer is hired or changes jobs or jurisdictions, according to the Denver Post. The Board also decided that officers with felony convictions will not be hired or allowed to stay on the job.

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The goal of police psychological evaluations isn’t exclusively to determine whether an applicant has a diagnosable mental disorder; the evaluations are also designed to identify potential law enforcement officers whose personalities and behavior are unsuited to a job which requires sound judgment, quick decisions, and emotional stability, especially during tense situations. These psychological evaluations can help prevent any questionable individuals from becoming police officers.

Almost every Denver criminal defense attorney has represented someone who has been a victim of police misconduct or police brutality in this city. In 2013, a man named Robert Duran was awarded $40,000 after jurors saw a video of an ex-Denver Sheriff’s Deputy grabbing Duran by the throat. In 2011, the City of Denver paid out more than $1 million to settle police brutality lawsuits.

WHAT ARE THE STANDARDS FOR POLICE PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS?

Because the individual states govern how police agencies operate – by creating state commissions or academies to determine hiring and training standards – there is no widely-accepted national consensus regarding how police departments recruit candidates, how psychological evaluations are conducted, what those evaluations should determine, or even whether or not such evaluations should be mandatory.

Colorado state law already required psychological evaluations, but in practice, the evaluations were rarely conducted prior to this year. The loose protocols worked to the advantage of “problem” officers who could shuffle between police departments when they were accused of violations. In many cases, those officers landed in impoverished, rural communities which have difficulty recruiting qualified candidates.

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John S. Camper is the Chief of Police in Grand Junction, Colorado, and the vice chairman of the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. “What the public is concerned about,” Camper says, “is that police departments don’t pass off someone that is a problem in one department to another department.” He added that, “If I’m hiring someone, even if they’ve been an officer at another jurisdiction, I’m going to require them to go through it.”

ARE THE PUBLIC’S CONCERNS LEGITIMATE?

The public’s concerns are genuine. In other states, the hiring of unqualified police officers has had deadly consequences. Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland police officer who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death in November 2014, was previously deemed “unfit” to be a police officer in 2012 after only six months with the Independence Police Department in Ohio. In March 2014, he landed the job in Cleveland.

Robert Bates, an Oklahoma Sheriff’s deputy, shot and killed a fleeing suspect when he reportedly fired his weapon by mistake when he intended to reach for his Taser. Videos showing the shootings of Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald and 50-year-old Walter Scott in South Carolina indicate that officers gunned down suspects who were moving away rather than posing a threat. Twenty-two states do not mandate that a licensed psychologist administer a psychological evaluation as a minimum qualification for a potential police recruit.

Psychological evaluations are required by most large municipal police departments regardless of whether or not the state’s laws explicitly mandate evaluations. But even in large, urban police agencies, psychological evaluations are inconsistently conducted, and the many tests and methods used by examiners – as well as the qualifications of the examiners themselves – vary widely. In states that do not mandate the evaluations, many smaller police departments do not require them.

WITHOUT POLICE PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS, WHAT CAN HAPPEN?

When police agencies disregard psychological screenings, the result is often police brutality litigation. Flint Taylor, a founding partner of the People’s Law Office in Chicago, says, “We have been dealing with the psychological screening of police officers, and the lack of it, ever since the ‘60s when I first started litigating police brutality cases. It’s a problem that police departments skirt around in one form or another.”

Despite the absence of mandated national standards governing evaluation tools and procedures, the Police Psychological Services Section of the International Association of Chiefs of Police established the first set of guidelines in 1986 and revised the guidelines in 2009. The guidelines specify that a licensed, doctoral-level psychologist should use tools including psychological assessments and personal interviews with a candidate to determine a candidate’s suitability to become a police officer.

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice originally recommended psychological evaluations for potential police recruits back in 1967. However, the use of evaluations didn’t become widespread by police applicants until the public’s reaction to the Rodney King incident in 1991. This pivotal incident compelled police departments to respond by requiring evaluations to reduce the rising costs of litigation linked to police brutality charges.

ARE MORE POLICE PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS NEEDED?

About three to five percent of the general population suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder, and the number of police applicants disqualified on the basis of diagnosable mental illness is in the same range – three to five percent. But police departments need more comprehensive screening. Having bad judgment or a short temper may not be a “diagnosable mental disorder,” but those traits should still disqualify an applicant from becoming a police officer.

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There’s also growing evidence that officers need to be reevaluated routinely – perhaps every three or five years. The data indicates that police work can alter the personality traits of an officer over time. Law enforcement agencies routinely use “fitness for duty” examinations designed for experienced officers, but usually that only happens after the officer has already displayed troubling behavior. Many police psychologists support regular, mandatory evaluations and counseling for all law enforcement officers on a continuing basis.

Of course, even if police psychological evaluations of police applicants were one hundred percent accurate when predicting “undesirable” personality traits, and even if counseling for veteran officers was mandatory, misconduct could still happen. Frankly, any time an arrest is made, there’s a potential for misconduct and injury, so anyone charged with a crime in Colorado should always consult first with an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney.

Recent Bill Allows Colorado Residents The Right To Record The Police

Posted on: April 25, 2016 by in Criminal Defense
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When a man named George Holliday shot video from his balcony of several Los Angeles police officers assaulting Rodney King back in 1991, the incident quickly became a huge national news story. At that time, there was no YouTube, cell phones still were not universal, and video of police misbehavior was still rare. If the Rodney King story happened today, George Holliday’s video would have to compete on the internet with dozens of other frightening and disturbing police misconduct videos.

In the quarter-of-a-century since 1991, video cameras are now everywhere, and an army of citizen-photographers across the country have been recording incidents of police misconduct – and posting their recordings to YouTube. Scores of beatings, assaults, shootings, and incidents of bullying by law enforcement officers can now be seen by everyone. This explosion of citizen video has fueled a national debate about the nature of police work, as well as dramatically changed how people consider claims of police misconduct.

Recent videos that have “gone viral” – that is, videos shared and watched online by thousands, even millions – include videos showing a teenage girl being thrown from a school desk by a sheriff’s deputy in South Carolina and an unarmed man, also in South Carolina, being shot in the back by a police officer. YouTube watchers can also see a 15-year-old girl being thrown to the ground by a police officer in McKinney, Texas, and a New York City police detective screaming at an Uber driver in an out-of-control, xenophobic rant.

HOW ARE LAWMAKERS RESPONDING TO POLICE MISCONDUCT?

In response to these many recent and confirmed recorded incidents of police misconduct, lawmakers around the country have been taking legislative steps to ensure that the citizen-photographers can keep shooting video. For decades, law enforcement officers have resisted being recorded, intimidated citizen-photographers, and have often seized cameras and video with the knowledge that there would be few if any repercussions.

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However, since 2014, at least six states have adopted laws which reaffirm that filming the police is a legal right almost always protected under the Constitution. New laws in Connecticut and here in Colorado expose police officers to civil fines if the officers wrongly interfere with or destroy a legal recording. Legislation adopted in the summer of 2015 ensures that Coloradans can record police officers as long as the photographers are not obstructing an officer in the performance of his or her law enforcement duties. The 2015 law entitles Colorado citizens to at least $15,000 in civil damages if police officers interfere with their right to record.

WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?

Specifically, the Colorado law states: “A person who lawfully records an incident involving a peace officer and has that recording destroyed by a peace officer or a peace officer seizes the recording without receiving permission from the person to seize it or without first obtaining a warrant has a private civil right of action against the peace officer’s employing law enforcement agency.”

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Fort Collins Assistant Chief of Police Cory Christensen says that for many years, the officers in Fort Collins have been trained to interact with citizens who are recording them. “We believe in the professionalism of our officers, so it doesn’t matter if we are being recorded or not,” Christensen says. Officers will only ask citizens to stop recording in sensitive situations involving matters such as sexual assaults or child abuse. Christensen says that yes, Colorado state law allows citizens to record police officers, but citizens still need to respect an officer’s need to perform his or her duties. He added, “obstructing police is a crime.”

In New York City, the expanding practice of citizens recording police officers has meant that more allegations of police misconduct are being confirmed by video recordings. In the first nine months of 2015, 23 percent of misconduct and abuse complaints against New York City police officers were substantiated by a city review board – up from 17 percent in 2014 and 8 percent in 2011. About 40 percent of the nation’s law enforcement agencies now equip police officers with body cameras. Usually, most police officials say, such footage shows officers acting properly and protects officers against fabricated misconduct claims.

Specifically, the 2015 Colorado law affirms that citizens have a right to record “any incident” involving a law enforcement officer and that citizens also have the right to maintain “custody and control” of both the recording (that is, the photos or video) and the device that was used (the camera). The law also gives Colorado citizens the legal grounds to take civil action against police officers who interfere with their recording. Citizens are entitled to compensation for the replacement of damaged devices, $500 for damaged or destroyed recordings, legal fees, and punitive damages of up to $15,000.

ARE PHOTOGRAPHERS OBSTRUCTING THE POLICE?

As more states affirm the right of citizens to take video of law enforcement officers, some legitimate concerns about citizen-photographers and their impact on police work are being expressed. Some police officers say the citizen-photographers can interfere with police work and create dangerous situations. “They try to get closer to the police than is necessary, and they get in the way sometimes,” Baltimore police Lt. Victor Gearhart tells the Wall Street Journal. Witnesses can also be scared away by photographers, he says: “They don’t want to end up on Facebook and all their friends see them talking to police.”

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Last year, police in Baltimore introduced a new policy that allows the police to seize someone’s video only if the officers believe that evidence of a crime is in “immediate jeopardy” of being deleted or altered. The new policy in Baltimore is one part of a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which sued on behalf of a citizen-photographer after the Baltimore police destroyed his video of an arrest.

HOW CAN VIDEO HELP YOU?

If you are arrested and charged with any crime, video can sometimes be compelling evidence in your defense. Historically, when it’s only your word against an arresting officer, juries and judges have generally given the officer the benefit of the doubt and video recordings eliminate that bias. The recordings can protect an innocent police officer when there is a fabricated allegation of police brutality or misconduct, but the real value of video recordings is the evidence those recordings often provide to defendants.

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Denver area residents and visitors charged with a crime will need to retain the advice and services of an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney who has a record of winning similar cases and successfully guiding clients through the often-confusing Colorado criminal justice system. If you face a criminal charge in the Denver area and you were a victim of police brutality or abuse, or if you believe there may be video evidence that can help your case, tell your defense attorney at once.

One of your lawyer’s first moves will be to obtain any pertinent recording of your arrest or of the crime you are accused of committing. In the best scenarios, scrutiny of a video may even lead to a dismissal of criminal charges prior to a trial. If you are accused of any crime in the Denver area, do not admit to anything, and do not try to act as your own attorney. Instead, exercise your right to remain silent, and immediately contact an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney who can fight aggressively for your rights and for justice on your behalf.