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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. 

CO Cities Illegally Jail Poor People for Failure to Pay Fines

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado accused three Front Range cities this morning of jailing people for failing to pay court-ordered fines that they are too poor to pay. Relying on state and federal court decisions, the ACLU sent letters to the cities demanding a prompt halt to the practice.

The ACLU conducted an in-depth investigation into the municipal courts of Westminster, Wheat Ridge, and Northglenn, which routinely issue “pay or serve” warrants without any consideration for or inquiry into a debtor’s ability to pay.

“Pay- or-serve” warrants authorize a debtor’s arrest. Once in custody, the debtor must either pay the full amount of the fine or “pay down” the fine by serving time in jail at a daily rate set by the court. Wheat Ridge and Northglenn set the rate at $50 per day, while Westminster converts all unpaid fines into ten-day sentences. None of the three cities has a process to determine whether the debtor has the ability to pay, as federal and state law require.

“These ‘pay-or-serve’ warrants return Colorado to the days of debtors’ prisons, which were abolished long ago,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “Jailing poor people for fines they cannot pay violates the Constitution and punishes poor people just for being poor. It also wastes taxpayer resources, crowds the jails, and doesn’t get the fines paid.”

The Jefferson County Jail imprisoned at least 154 people on pay-or-serve warrants during a five-month period from February to June of this year. During that time period, 973 days were served at a cost to taxpayers of more than $70 per day, for a total cost of more than $70,000. These 973 fine days cancelled out $40,000 of fines, making the total loss to the taxpayer $110,000.

“Jailing the poor for failure to pay a fine is not only unconstitutional, but also fundamentally unfair,” says ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney Rebecca T. Wallace. “This practice creates a two-tiered system of justice in which those who can afford to pay their legal debts avoid jail and can move on with their lives, and those unable to pay end up imprisoned.”

Examples from the ACLU letters include Jared Thornburg, who was sentenced by the Westminster Municipal Court to ten days in jail when he could not pay a $165 fine for driving a defective vehicle, a non-jailable offense. The Northglenn Municipal Court sentenced a homeless man to four days in jail when he was unable to pay a $190 fine for possession of a marijuana pipe. Linda Roberts, a homeless and disabled woman, was sentenced to fifteen days by the Wheat Ridge Municipal Court when she could not pay $671 in fines and court costs. In each case, no inquiry was made into the debtor’s ability to pay.

The municipal court practices criticized in the ACLU’s letters are emblematic of a wider problem, Silverstein said. According to the ACLU, municipal courts in the majority of Colorado’s largest cities order the arrest of persons who miss payments on court-ordered fines, with most of them specifying jail time in proportion to the size of the unpaid debt.

The City of Denver is an exception. Denver stopped issuing warrants for failure to pay money at the beginning of 2012, citing the high costs associated with jailing debtors and the lost revenue of forfeiting fines. After abandoning the practice, Denver increased the amount of fines and fees it collected in the following year, without the added cost of holding people in jail for failure to pay.

The ACLU has requested a written response from the three cities by January 10, 2014.

Visit the case page, which includes links to the ACLU letters.



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