Skip to main content

Sentencing: Penalties for Some Colorado Drug Possession Decrease Under New Law

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #634)

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) Tuesday signed into law a package of criminal justice reform bills, including one that will reduce penalties for some drug possession offenses, one that will give judges increased discretion in sentencing, and one that will broaden parole eligibility. Of the 10 bills in the package, six were based on recommendations from the Colorado Commission on Criminal Justice, which Ritter formed in 2007 to try to get a grip on skyrocketing criminal justice and corrections costs.

"Our criminal justice system is tasked with one of the most important responsibilities in our society -- maintaining public safety and protecting communities," said Gov. Ritter, who served as Denver's district attorney for 12 years before becoming governor. "What we have created here in Colorado, particularly the past few years, is a system that is tough on crime and smart on crime. We can do both. We are doing both, because public safety is not a zero-sum game. Certainly, we can always do better. We can always make improvements. And that's what we are doing here today by signing this legislation into law."

HB 1352 reduces the penalty for the illegal use of drugs (excluding marijuana, which is already decriminalized) from a felony to a misdemeanor and removes the word "possess" from the statute regarding drug sales and manufacture. It also reduces the penalties for the simple possession of most drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor.

But not all drugs. Possession of Rohypnol, ketamine, or methamphetamine would remain a felony punishable by up to six years in prison. The misdemeanor possessors of other drugs, including heroin and cocaine, would face only 18 months.

But the bill also increases penalties for drug sales and manufacturing offenses to 12 years. Those convicted of importing drugs into the state or using guns face up to 48 years, and anyone convicted of supplying marijuana to someone younger than 15 faces a mandatory minimum four years.

Still, the bill commits $1.5 million in expected savings in prison costs to treatment and rehabilitation. Overall, the changes in sentencing, probation, and parole in the package are expected to save the state $3.6 million a year.

HB 1338, sponsored by Sen. Pat Steadman, allows judges to exercise more discretion in sentencing by allowing them to sentence some two-time felons to probation instead of prison. The provision does not apply to those whose prior felonies were specified violent crimes or offenses against children.

"HB 1338 restores judicial discretion in sentencing certain nonviolent offenders to probation rather than prison. This bill saves money and saves lives," Sen. Pat Steadman said.

HB 1360 allows community punishment instead of re-imprisonment for people on parole for low-level, nonviolent crimes who commit technical parole violations, such as a dirty drug test, missing an appointment, or moving without reporting the move.

"It saves the state millions of dollars by providing more intermediate sanctions for technical parole violators," said bill cosponsor Rep. Sal Pace. "These programs not only save the state money, but more importantly they are proven though research to reduce recidivism rates. That means fewer crimes, fewer victims and greater cost savings in the future."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


David S. Schneider (not verified)

As a Colorado native, all I can say is, It's about fucking time! former Denver D.A. and Colorado governor can't seem to figure out all the prison recidivism nor can he figure how to pay for the problem he's created with Department of Corrections (#4 nationally) by sending as many people as possible to prison for anything and everything.

the Tabor Act, The Taxpayers Bill of Rights was elected to the People of Colorado, and forbids ANY new taxes without a vote of The People. So quack, quack lame duck Ritter...

Fri, 05/28/2010 - 2:50pm Permalink
maxwood (not verified)

"...anyone convicted of supplying marijuana to someone younger than 15 faces a mandatory minimum four years."

Over half of all hot burning overdose nigotine $igarette addicts are reported to be hooked prior to legal age to possess and use the product. Wonder what the statistics are for under 15. Next time you walk by some low-income neighborhood food store with the $igarette posters facing out at eye-level to 6-year-olds learning to read, and the $igarette -themed "Push" and "Pull" signs on the door, consider the possibility that such propaganda resulting in 6-million-a-year megadeath worldwide and $200-bil./yr. economic cost to the USA alone might be made prosecutable with minimum sentences in order.

Fri, 05/28/2010 - 5:19pm Permalink
Rwolf (not verified)

While Colorado legislation recently reduced jail time for possession of certain drugs, last year State Representatives tried to pass HB09-1238; had this bill passed Colorado Police would no longer have to wait for a “criminal conviction” to keep someone’s forfeited property. Colorado police wanted the State to change its forfeiture laws to require only a “preponderance of evidence” little more than hearsay for police to confiscate property: no conviction necessary. Public resistance to the bill was fierce.

HB09-1238 would have opened the door for police to target businesses and homeowners for Civil Asset Forfeiture in “poor communities” where crime rates are higher. Poor neighborhoods, schools and community services dependent on property taxes could have been economically impacted by dropping real estate values, the probable-result of multi-family and other investors frightened away by the HB09-1238 “no conviction needed” to forfeit property law.

Colorado’s HB09 civil asset forfeiture law could have hit the rich. Expensive Colorado resort properties used by occupants for illegal purposes—even if unbeknownst to the owner, could be civilly forfeited on the basis the owner “had reason to know” of lawbreaking activities at their home: For example that their teenage son living at their Colorado vacation house might get into trouble again—with drugs. Under HB09-1238 no one had to be convicted of a crime for police to civilly forfeit a vacation owner’s property. Had this bill passed, it was foreseeable less people would want to purchase Colorado vacation home if they had intended to rent it. Under HB09-1238 property management companies might have been vulnerable to lawsuits from property owners losing rented homes to civil asset forfeiture.

Realistically it is not possible 100% of the time for property owners to stop patrons and tenants breaking laws at their rented home, apartment building, restaurant, or motel.

Currently Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws require “only a Preponderance of Civil Evidence” to forfeit property. No one need be charged with a crime: government can use as civil evidence to forfeit someone’s real property, that the owner reported to police their tenant was dealing drugs to show the owner—had prior knowledge of the activity. There are over 200 U.S. laws and violations that can subject property to civil asset forfeiture. For example a misrepresentation on a federally insured mortgage loan application can make your home—forever subject to federal civil asset forfeiture.

Colorado Police did not want to wait for a criminal conviction before forfeiting someone’s property. Outrageously HB09-1238 would have prevented—a court—staying a “Civil Asset Forfeiture Proceeding” until a criminal trial related to the owner’s seized property was finished.

Colorado Citizens need to be Alert to stop the next “police asset forfeiture bill.”

Congress should pass legislation that raises the standard of evidence required before U.S. Government can forfeit someone’s property without a conviction from a mere “Preponderance of Evidence” to “Clear and Convincing Evidence.

_______________________________ March 23, 2009

Chairman of Committee Date
Committee on Judiciary.
After consideration on the merits, the Committee recommends the
HB09-1238 be postponed indefinitely.

Fri, 05/28/2010 - 7:19pm Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.