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  • 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: acluco.org/redemption. 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 https://action.aclu.org/give/support-aclu-colorado

  • 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 Report Highlights Abusive and Unconstitutional Practices in Colorado City Courts

DENVER – Colorado’s more than 200 municipal courts operate without meaningful accountability or oversight, and one court in particular — the Alamosa Municipal Court— systematically violates the constitutional rights of its mainly impoverished criminal defendants, according to a report released today by the ACLU of Colorado.

Justice Derailed: A case study of abusive and unconstitutional practices in Colorado city courts is based on a multi-year ACLU investigation which revealed that, despite a bipartisan reform effort at the state legislature, many municipal courts persistently ignore constitutional standards and state law and continue to employ practices that punish defendants for their poverty.

The report finds: “While some Colorado municipal judges are actively working to improve the quality and fairness of their courts, others run their courtroom like a personal fiefdom, trampling on the rights of criminal defendants – especially those living in poverty – with impunity.”

“Colorado’s city courts primarily handle our state’s lowest-level offenses, most of which are intimately tied to poverty and addiction,” said ACLU of Colorado Policy Counsel Rebecca Wallace.  “These courts are often the first contact individuals have with the criminal justice system.  Yet, they operate without meaningful oversight, in the shadows of state law and the Constitution.  This lack of oversight can and does pave the way for gross civil liberties violations.”

According to Justice Derailed, the Alamosa Municipal Court, under the sole leadership of Judge Daniel Powell, “stands out among Colorado municipal courts for the frequency and seriousness of constitutional abuses, the lack of respect for individuals who appear before the court, the striking difference in treatment between impoverished defendants and those with means, and the sense of fundamental injustice that permeates many court proceedings.”

Using transcripts, courtroom audio and case summaries, the report provides numerous examples of Judge Powell issuing unnecessary arrest warrants, allowing defendants to languish in jail for days or even weeks for low-level offenses, denying counsel to indigent defendants, imposing fines that are vastly disproportionate to the crime, and using jail and the threat of jail to collect money from defendants who cannot afford to pay, in violation of state law.

“Judge Powell is operating a two-tiered system in which defendants are punished for their poverty. Those with means might only appear once in court and pay their debt, while those who lack financial resources face a cruel form of injustice,” said ACLU of Colorado Research and Policy Associate Becca Curry, who co-authored the report.  “We saw cases where a person had received a simple traffic infraction or was accused of shoplifting less than two dollars’ worth of food, and just because they could not pay their court debt were trapped for years in a cycle of debt and incarceration.”

More than 35 percent of Alamosa’s 10,000 residents live below the poverty line.  Like many rural communities, the southwestern Colorado city is embroiled in an opioid crisis. Rather than using his position to connect addicts to services, Judge Powell “vilifies and blames people with addiction” and often issues arrest warrants for individuals that he knows cannot attend court proceedings because they are in voluntary drug rehab programs, according to the report.

The Alamosa Municipal Court, through its practice of issuing long sentences for minor offenses, is also a primary driver of overcrowding at the Alamosa County Jail, which is currently at more than double its capacity.  In 2016, 90 percent of the 475 arrest warrants issued by the court were for low-level nonviolent offenses.

“While Alamosa provides a comprehensive display of all that can go wrong when a local court has too much power and too little accountability, these abuses are present in many municipal courts throughout the state,” said Wallace. “The legislature and the Colorado Supreme Court must take action to ensure that all of our municipal courts are transparent, accountable, and just.”

Justice Derailed provides a set of recommendations for the Alamosa Municipal Court to bring its court into compliance with constitutional standards and state law, as well as recommendations for the state legislature to establish reporting requirements, incentivize municipalities to establish an independent public defender system, establish written ability-to-pay assessment criteria, require courts to individualize sentences to fit the crime and the defendant’s ability to pay, and create a statewide study group to study municipal court practices and make further recommendations to address injustices in the municipal courts.

Read the ACLU Report: https://aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/JUSTICE-DERAILED-web.pdf

 



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