Colorado Rights Blog


  • Cedric Watkins is a father, uncle, entrepreneur-in-training, and a vital community pillar for many others. While behind bars, he has tirelessly devoted himself to serving his peers and his community. He developed gang disaffiliation programs for other incarcerated individuals and is currently involved with Defy Ventures. He sends letters and calls his daughter as much as he can.

    Cedric is currently in prison at Sterling Correctional Facility. He was convicted of aggravated robbery, burglary, kidnapping, theft and sentenced to 80 years; no one was seriously injured or killed. For comparison, a person convicted of second-degree murder in Colorado faces a maximum sentence of 48 years. Cedric has already served 20 years and has fully rehabilitated during that time.

    It’s time to bring Cedric home: Redemption is real. Clemency is compassion.

  • On November 21, 2016, 13 Aurora police officers responded to a simple noise complaint at Alberto Torres’s home. As happens all too often, Aurora police officers escalated this minor issue into a brutal affair. They beat Mr. Torres solely because he delayed exiting his garage to ask his wife to interpret for him. With that beating, the lives of Mr. Torres and every member of his family were changed and he has yet to recover. ACLU of Colorado fought to obtain justice for Mr. Torres, and Aurora has now paid him $285,000. But money is not justice, and the brutality of the Aurora Police Department against people of color has continued unabated.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    Imagine, if instead of 13 officers being dispatched to Mr. Torres’s home for a noise complaint, the City of Aurora sent a civilian-led response team to check on his welfare and ask that he and his friends lower their sound, resulting in a non-violent solution to a minor issue?

    ACLU Settles Case With Aurora After Police Brutalize and Unlawfully Arrest Alberto Torres

  • Hope is a discipline. It’s a commitment that together, we can create a more perfect union. We won’t rest until we fulfill the promise of equal rights for ALL people in the United States.

    Join us in our fight to fulfill this promise and move forward with hope by donating to the ACLU of Colorado. Your donation supports the ACLU’s strengths that make our work effective and collaborative.

    Donate now at

  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people. 

ACLU of Colorado applauds California judge

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional because of the limits it places on free speech. The case, U.S. vs. Alvarez, involved a  defendant’s false claim that he had won a Congressional Medal of Honor. Under the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime for a person to falsely claim to have been awarded military decorations, his lie is a crime punishable by up to a year in prison.

The ACLU of Colorado applauds the ruling. Judge Milan D. Smith’s opinion echoes that of Judge Robert E. Blackburn, who also found the Stolen Valor Act to be unconstitutional in an almost-identical case here in Colorado, U.S. vs. Strandlof. The ACLU of Colorado filed an amicus brief asking Judge Blackburn to throw out the SVA on First Amendment grounds. Judge Blackburn agreed, finding that the Act “is justified by a desire to curb speech about a specific topic,” which, unless serving a very compelling government interest, is unconstitutional.

Constitutional protections do not cease to apply simply because a statement is false.  The First Amendment was not intended to protect only speech that is true. Similarly, Judge Smith wrote that the Act could set “a precedent whereby the government may proscribe speech solely because it is a lie.” Under the Act, the false statement alone is sufficient for conviction—the government need not prove that the defendant gained anything of value or that anyone was harmed. This represents, as we argued in our Strandlof brief, “content-based regulation of speech” and thus is “subject to strict scrutiny under the First Amendment.”

In one of the highlights of the U.S. vs. Alvarez opinion, Judge Smith imagined the potential ramifications of outlawing simple falsehoods: “Indeed, if the Act is constitutional…then there would be no constitutional bar to criminalizing lying about one’s height, weight, age, or financial status on or Facebook, or falsely representing to one’s mother that does not smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, is a virgin, or has not exceeded the speed limit while driving on the freeway.” Granted, the ACLU of Colorado does not condone lying about military service nor to one’s mother, but the fact remains that the First Amendment protects all forms of speech—even speech that is not approved by your mother.

The criminalization of pure speech posing no threat to the health or safety of others pushes  our civil rights and civil liberties down quite a slippery slope. Which category of false statements could next be criminalized? We appreciate that the Ninth District Court has joined Judge Blackburn in finding the Act’s warrantless restrictions on free speech as unconstitutional. U.S. vs. Strandlof will likely by appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court, so we can expect more updates on this case in the coming months.

Read the U.S. vs. Alvarez decision.
And while we didn’t agree with the substance of Judge Bybee’s dissent, we did enjoy his references to the Forrest Gump and Karate Kid movies.

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