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  • 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.

Wheat Ridge Jailed Homeless Man in Violation of 2014 Law Banning Debtors’ Prisons

8/26/2015

DENVER – The Wheat Ridge Municipal Court violated a recently-enacted Colorado law banning debtor’s prison practices by sentencing a homeless man to jail because he could not pay a fine, according to a filing this morning by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.

Wilburn Taylor was cited for panhandling when a Wheat Ridge police officer found him with a blank cardboard and a pen, intending to make a sign requesting charity from passing motorists.   Taylor appeared before Municipal Court Judge Christopher Randall, pleaded guilty and was assessed a $100 fine. He explained to the court that he was destitute, jobless, and could not pay. Despite that, Judge Randall told Taylor that he would have to pay the fine by a specific date or a warrant would issue for his arrest.

Over the following months, Taylor, who remained homeless and destitute, was arrested and brought to court two more times, with the debt increasing each time. Finally, after the debt had nearly tripled to $275, Judge Randall cited Taylor for “contempt of court” for failing to pay and sentenced him to three days in jail.

“Mr. Taylor was wrongly found in contempt of court for failing to pay a fine that he could not pay,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “Colorado law is clear: a conviction for contempt is appropriate only if a defendant has the ability to pay and willfully refuses to do so. In this case, Judge Randall found our client guilty of contempt and sentenced him to jail without any inquiry into his ability to pay. Indeed, the record showed that our client was homeless, unemployed, impoverished, and had no means to pay the fine.”

The Supreme Court has long held that it is unconstitutional to jail an individual for failing to pay a debt that he is too poor to pay. Nevertheless, a 2013 ACLU of Colorado investigation revealed that municipal courts around the state were regularly doing just that. During the 2014 legislative session, in response to the ACLU investigation, the Colorado legislature overwhelmingly passed HB 14-1061, a new state law that mandates due process protections to prevent courts from jailing individuals who cannot pay court fines and fees.

According to the ACLU’s motion, which was filed in the Wheat Ridge Municipal Court by ACLU Cooperating Attorney Ty Gee, the court violated several provisions of the Colorado statute as well as the Constitution, and, therefore, Taylor’s conviction for contempt of court should be vacated.

Resources:

Read the ACLU filing, which includes transcripts from Wilburn Taylor’s court appearances: http://static.aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/2015-08-25-Mot-to-Vacate-Judgment.pdf

Read Colorado Legislature Approves Ban on Debtors’ Prisons.

Learn more about the 2013 ACLU of Colorado investigation into debtor’s prison practices in Colorado: https://aclu-co.org/court-cases/debtors-prisons/

Visit the ACLU of Colorado’s End Debtor’s Prisons Campaign Page: https://aclu-co.org/campaigns/end-debtors-prisons/



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