Colorado Rights Blog

Nathan Woodliff-Stanley By: Nathan Woodliff-Stanley 12.31.2014

Colorado Civil Liberties in Review: 12 Highlights of 2014

As 2014 closes, here are 12 highlights that represent a sample of the cases won, bills passed or defeated, and civil liberties issues raised by the ACLU of Colorado this year.  There will be even more challenges ahead in 2015, from fights for privacy, free speech, voting rights and racial justice to battles against mass incarceration, capital punishment, abuse of police power, and discrimination in all its forms. Thank you to all of our members, supporters, and activists for caring about civil liberties, because it is your support and your activism that turns promised rights into actual rights for all people in Colorado and across our nation.

  1. Marijuana Legalization Implemented. On January 1, 2014, implementation began for Amendment 64, allowing legal sale and possession of small amounts of marijuana under Colorado law. Colorado’s example has been watched by other states, helping put a dent in the costly “War on Drugs.”
  2. Debtors’ Prison Practices Stopped. After ACLU of Colorado research and advocacy, the Colorado legislature put an end to the practice of putting Coloradans in jail because they were too poor to pay fines.
  3. Solitary Confinement Curtailed. The legislature banned the costly, cruel, and inhumane practice of warehousing prisoners with serious mental illness in solitary confinement. The overall solitary confinement population in Colorado prisons dropped to about 200 from over 1700 three years earlier.
  4. Illegal Detainers Ended. Based on ACLU attorney Mark Silverstein’s legal analysis, sheriffs in all Colorado counties agreed to end the illegal practice of holding people in jail beyond what should have been their time of release at the request of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
  5. Discrimination in the Name of Religion Rebuffed. Colorado courts ruled that discrimination by Masterpiece Cakeshop against LGBT customers violated public accommodation laws, and the ACLU of Colorado continued to fight off legislative efforts to allow discrimination in the name of religion.
  6. Death Penalty Reprieve Granted. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper officially expressed his opposition to the death penalty, calling it expensive, unequal and ineffective as a deterrent to crime.
  7. Awareness of Privacy and Surveillance Issues Increased.   While Colorado Senate Bill 193 succeeded in prohibiting searches of location devices without a warrant, broader concerns about privacy grew in the wake of revelations about government surveillance of American citizens, laying the groundwork for future efforts to protect privacy rights.
  8. Marriage Equality Achieved. On October 7, 2014, the full freedom to marry for same-sex couples became the law of the land in Colorado.
  9. Women’s Reproductive Rights Protected. In addition to the defeat of bills that would have limited women’s reproductive rights, the deceptive fetal personhood amendment was soundly defeated by the No on 67 coalition. The ACLU of Colorado also protected the rights of nursing mothers to be accommodated by their employers.
  10. Police Practices Put Under the Spotlight. National attention on police killings of young black men was amplified in Colorado by multiple judgments against Denver law enforcement. Meanwhile the ACLU investigated bad police practices in Trinidad and settled a mistaken identity case in Denver.
  11. Student Activism Renewed. 2014 saw the highest level of high school student protests in Colorado in many years, from Jefferson County students protesting right-wing religious attacks on school curricula to dozens of student protests against police brutality and racial bias.
  12. Criminalization of Homelessness Fought. After winning a case in Colorado Springs against an unconstitutional ordinance aimed at driving away people who are homeless, the ACLU of Colorado has recognized and begun a broader fight against the criminalization of homelessness all across the state.



  • 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. 

  • Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”

    Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.

    Read more about Ronald Johnson and other at-risk incarcerated people.

  • Tuesday Olson knew her pregnancy was in trouble and tried to access hospital care as soon as possible. But there was a problem: she was in jail. This is her story.
  • It’s time to end the death penalty in Colorado. Family members who lost loved ones to murder speak out against an unjust and broken system.