These are all of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice bills proposed in the 2021 session. Each bill has its own bill number, please use your browser search feature to find the bill you are interested in. Return to the Colorado home page to pick a different bill category.
None of the text is the opinion of Engage. Each bill's description, arguments for, and arguments against are our best effort at describing what each bill does, arguments for, and arguments against the bill. The long description is hidden by design, you can click on it to expand it if you want to read more detail about the bill. If you believe we are missing something, please contact us with your suggestion. Some of these bills have the notation that they have been sent to the chamber's "kill" committee. This means that the leadership has decided to send the bill to the State committee even though it does not belong there based on its subject matter. This committee, in both chambers, is stacked with members from "safe" districts and the idea is to kill the bill without forcing any less safe members to take a hard vote. It is possible for a bill to survive the kill committee, but it is very rare.
Prime sponsors are given after each bill, with Senate sponsors in () and House sponsors in . They are color-coded by party.
Some bills will have text highlighted in pink or highlighted in orange or highlighted in yellow. Pink highlights mean House amendments to the original bill; orange mean Senate amendments; yellow highlights mean conference committee amendments. The bill will say under the header if it has been amended.
Each bill has been given a "magnitude" category: Mega, Major, Medium, Minor, and Technical. This is a combination of the change the bill would create and the "controversy" level of the bill. Some minor bills that are extending current programs would be major changes if they were introducing something new, but the entire goal here is to allow you to better curate your time. Something uncontroversial likely to pass nearly unanimously that continues a past program may not be worth your time (and please remember, you can still read all of the minor bills!). Technical bills are here to round out the list. They are non-substantive changes.
Click on the Senate bill title to jump to its section:
HB21-1064 Update Processes Juvenile Sex Offender Registry (Rodriguez (D)) [Benavidez (D), Amabile (D)]
Fiscal Impact: Negligible each year
- Make it easier for juvenile sex offenses to not require long-term registration on the sex offender registry by recognizing other state decisions to not require registration, not allowing a juvenile offense to mandate lifetime registration, and expanding judicial discretion at sentencing if a professional evaluator recommends exemption for a 1st offense (victim input is taken).
- Remove the juvenile sex registry from the public domain and allows for release of juvenile information only under certain circumstances.
If a juvenile is required to register, the automatic registration duty ends either when the person reaches age 25 or seven years from the day the juvenile was required to register, whichever occurs later. If a person whose duty to register has automatically terminated attempts to register or asks about it, local law enforcement must tell them they don’t need to register, remove them from any local registry, and notify the state bureau of investigation that the registration duty has ended.
Clarify that law enforcement may not release or post information regarding juveniles on the registry and create an unclassified misdemeanor for false statements made to access the registry.
Local law enforcement or the state bureau of investigation can charge a fee to determine whether duty to register has terminated. Maximum of $15 and must reflect actual costs involved. Can be waived for an indigent person. If the automatic removal has not occurred, the individual can petition the court to have it removed. If there are no subsequent convictions for unlawful sexual behavior or other offenses which involved unlawful sexual behavior and no pending prosecutions for such crimes, the judge must grant the request.
Requires courts to issue a ruling or set a hearing no later than 14 days before the end of each juvenile’s sentence concerning their on-going duty to register. Requires state to collect data on number of times information is requested and released concerning juveniles on the registry. Juveniles who judges determine do not have to register under this new system can be forced to register by the court if new information comes to light. State may only release juvenile registry information to law enforcement, the probation and parole division, child welfare, or the victim.
- This moves the state more inline with evidence-based practices around juvenile sex offenses—juvenile sex crimes show very limited correlation to adult sex crimes
- Being on this registry makes it extremely difficult to navigate in society and can push people toward committing more crime: research has shown being on a registry makes it more likely someone will commit future, non-sex related crimes, than those who are not required to register
- This also moves us more inline with other states when it comes to registry privacy—we need a system that better allows for shades of grey when it comes to still developing juveniles
In Further Detail: This moves the state’s juvenile registry more in the direction of evidence-based practices around juvenile sex offenses while keeping safeguards in practice. Youth who are required to register compared to with those who are not for the same crime are more likely to commit future, non-sex related crimes and critically, research has shown that juvenile sex crimes has a very limited correlation to committing adult sex crimes. Putting them on this public registry in essence pushes people toward criminal behavior by removing some of their ability to navigate society (such as losing ability to qualify for federal housing). Colorado is also currently one of only a handful of states that publish the juvenile sex registry. We recognize that juveniles are still developing by treating juvenile crime differently than adult crime. Sexually based crimes are no different. We need a system that allows for shades of gray, where we can still use the registry when it is necessary but not force it into situations where it actually may do more harm than good. And we need to make sure that for crimes that do merit inclusion on the registry, we are not flushing someone’s life away by destroying the very social supports they need for proper rehabilitation.
- Public safety is our paramount concern, if someone is still on the registry despite the additional leeway the bill provides to ensure they really belong there, then the public deserves to know
In Further Detail: The concept behind the sex offender registry is public safety. While it may make sense to allow for more judicial leeway, making the registry pretty much entirely private negates the purpose of having such a registry: to give families the ability to protect themselves against potential predators. We recognize that frequently the commission of sexually-based crime can be accompanied by mental illness that if untreated, may lead to additional sexually-based crimes. So if a juvenile is still on the registry after all of the new procedures this bill puts in place to potentially exempt them, the public has a right to know and act accordingly.
SB21-062 Jail Population Management Tools (Lee (D)) [Benavidez (D)]
Fiscal Impact: Not yet released
- Ends use of monetary bail for any offenses below the level of class 2 felonies unless the court can find on the record that cash bail is the only way to either ensure the defendant does not flee or does not threaten the safety of others
- Forbids police officers from performing what is called custodial arrest (arresting someone and bringing them to a jail where they will stay until they get a hearing) for offenses under class 3 felonies and class 2 drug felonies with a few exceptions having to do with imminent danger (see Description for full list). Bill specifically states that no review is required to ensure compliance with this section and it does not create any right to sue for violation of this section or have a case or evidence thrown out of court
- Officers may issues summons to court with whatever charges are levied unless the alleged crime involved violence (in which case the officer may arrest the individual) or arrest is required by law
- Encourage sheriffs to actively manage their jail populations to keep them as low as possible, including granting authority to test admission standards based on specific offenses
For appearing before the court because of failure to appear in court when summoned or violating parole for an original crime that was not a criminal offense, the court must issue a personal recognizance bond—which again means no money involved. Courts may add money in cases of parole violation or any case where failure to appear has happened three times or it finds on the record that the defendant is likely to flee.
The bill removes current law around summons and complaint orders issued by officers to replace it with the bill’s standard. The exceptions to the rule about custodial arrest are: it is required by law, the officer cannot verify the suspect’s identification without arresting them, the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect committed a DUI in the past year, or the offense is a victim’s rights crime (most of these are already class 1 or 2 felonies but those that aren’t deal with sex crimes, abuse, stalking, violating protection orders, crimes against witnesses, and motor vehicle accidents that result in death), involves illegal possession or use of a gun, involves illegal sexual behavior, violates a protection order, deals with a credible threat to a school, or involves eluding police in a vehicle. In the case of the list of crimes, the officer also must record in the arrest document a reasonable suspicion of danger to public safety or unwillingness to stop committing crime without an arrest.
In its definition of custodial arrest, the bill excludes officers who are transporting a person to a jail facility for reasons other than holding them there (like getting physical evidence such a fingerprints or DNA or executing a blood-alcohol test) and excludes transport to a hospital or behavioral or mental health facility unless the officer intends to put them in jail upon discharge.
- We are an innocent before proven guilty society, we should act like it. The high cost of bail (and bail bonds) can be an impossible barrier for lower-income defendants. This means they will lose their job, maybe their housing, and maybe even custody of their children.
- COVID related actions to limit prison populations have shown this can work
- Keeping people in prison for no good reason wastes taxpayer money
- Both of the previous two points extend perfectly to not arresting people and tossing them in jail pending a hearing for no good reason
In Further Detail: It is a bedrock principle of our criminal justice system that we assume people are innocent until we prove that they are guilty in a court of law. We definitely don’t act that in practice. On any given day before COVID a full 1/5 of the US prison population, 450,000 people, are in jail awaiting trial. The vast majority of them don’t need to be there. They aren’t going to flee, they aren’t there for violent offenses or offenses that might pose a danger to others. Instead they are potentially going to have their lives ruined, before being convicted of anything. They may lose their home, their job, even custody of a child. And the threat of this provides significant leverage to prosecutors. A study in Philadelphia found that assigning bail makes defendants 12% more likely to get convicted. Because people are pushed to plead guilty to low level offenses (or even higher ones) so they can get of jail. All of this is of course a massive waste of taxpayer resources. We spent $960 million of state taxpayer money on keeping people in jail last year. And we’ve learned from actions local officials have taken during COVID to minimize the number of people in jail that this can work. The state’s jail bookings fell by 58% as a result. We should only use monetary bond when it is actually necessary, not just as a knee-jerk reaction to any arrest or based on whatever the prosecutor wants. And bond should never be leveraged into getting a guilty plea. Prosecutors are perfectly able to argue in court that any particular case should be granted special exemption due to risk and judges are free to accept those arguments. Police officers are free to use their discretion in the same manner. As for the approach taken last year (mentioned in Arguments Against), a screening tool is a costly mechanism to essentially land in the same place
- Judges already have discretion to deny monetary bail demands from prosecutors, we should let them keep it
- Public safety and welfare come before concerns about money, so we shouldn’t come into this looking to find savings
- We can use time limits on arrest detention prior to a hearing to cut-down on the time people spend in jail after being arrested
- People understandably don’t want to lose their bail money, so it is a valuable tool for getting people appear in court—as is simply arresting them
In Further Detail: Our system already gives judges discretion on bail—we should allow them to keep using it rather then put into place blanket rules that are difficult to overcome. Public safety and welfare have to come before all other concerns, including the state spending money to keep people in prison before trial. So we shouldn’t come into this looking to save money. If we need to spend $960 million a year to keep Coloradans safe, then that’s the price tag. On the arrest vs. summons angle, officers can already issue summons for misdemeanor offenses rather than utilizing arrest. This bill changes this to a requirement then heaps a whole ton of judgment calls on officers relating to public safety. A different way to approach the arrest/detention problem is to set a time limit on detention prior to getting a hearing, which has been a goal of some in the legislature for a few years and is likely to appear as a bill at some point this year. Just 48 hours is not going to ruin anyone’s life and provides enough time for the system to determine the true nature of potential threats to public safety. On the failure to appear angle, the threat of losing money is a valuable tool for getting people to appear in court. This isn’t like missing an appointment at the dentist. The entire court system has prepared for the proceeding the defendant knew about and missed. This not only wastes time, but wastes resources. Again, judges have discretion in this area, let them use it.
- This diverges widely from the approach taken just last year to this same topic, which was to develop a pre-trial risk assessment screening tool to determine who does and does not need monetary bail
In Further Detail: Last year a bill was introduced that was also about reducing use of monetary bail, but instead of blanket bans and vague notions of threat, it required the state to develop an actual screening tool for everyone to use, partially to prevent a patchwork of rules and systems from developing throughout the state. It also had built-in anti-bias mechanisms to ensure that non-monetary bail was being applied equitably across the entire system. We need to have an approach along those lines.
SB21-074 Expunge Nonviolent Convictions After Three Years (Coleman (D))
Fiscal Impact: Not yet released
- Create a system of automated expungement of criminal records one year after completion of sentence for petty offenses, three years after non-violent misdemeanors, and five years after non-violent felonies. There is a list of crimes for which this is not permitted (see Description). Bill sets out a process to determine that the defendant has not been convicted or accused of another crime in the intervening time.
First, expungement is basically erasing. It removes all records such that the offense did not happen, in a legal sense. All records are destroyed. This is different than sealing, where records are made private but can still be accessed by multiple different groups.
Non-violent felonies, in this bill, do not include any crimes of violence as defined by other states laws but also do not include burglary or robbing someone with the threat of force or any felony committed against a child. Non-violent misdemeanors are class 1, 2, or 3, misdemeanors that do not involve cruelty to animals or the use of or threat of force in committing the crime. The complete list is in Additional Information.
The process for creating the expungement list works like this: the state court administrator creates an initial list of everyone who is eligible. This is then sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. They compare the list using fingerprints to their own database and remove anyone they cannot identify or anyone who has a conviction during the intervening period. The list then goes to each district attorney. They remove anyone who has a pending criminal charge. The court administrator then gets the final list and issues expungement orders. These go out to all relevant state parties and to the defendant, if contact information is available. This process must be done by July 2024 to catch up, then every 35 days.
State must develop a website that allows defendants to confidentially determine if their conviction has been expunged and how to get a copy of the order. Any private custodian that receives a copy of the order from the defendant must remove the relevant records from their database.
Bill also bans employers, educational institutions, state and local governments, from in any way asking or requiring an applicant to disclose if they have had a conviction expunged. Applicants may truly state that they have not been convicted of a crime.
These crimes are not eligible for automatic expungement:
- DUIs, class 1 or 2 misdemeanor traffic offenses, class A or B traffic infractions
- Any convictions where the underlying offense was unlawful sexual behavior
- Child abuse
- Class 1-5 felonies or level 1 drug felony
- Crimes with extraordinary aggravating circumstances
- Crimes classified as extraordinary risk, which include these crimes not already listed: aggravated robbery, intent or actual sale of unlawful substances, stalking, and sale of materials to manufacture controlled substances
- Crime involving a pregnant victim
- Crime involving domestic violence
- Burglary or robbing someone with the threat of force
- Any crime committed against a child
Class 5 or 6 felonies or misdemeanors which are otherwise ineligible can be put on the list if the district attorney consents, the victim has been notified, and a court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the petitioner’s need for expungement is significant and substantial, the passage of time is such that they are no longer a danger to public safety, and public disclosure of the record is no longer necessary to protect or inform the public.
- A criminal record can be an enormous barrier in our society: from getting housing to getting a job to getting into institutions of higher education. If our ultimate goal is to reintegrate people into society as fully functioning citizens who do not commit crimes, we are hurting ourselves by making it so hard for ex-criminals
- Sealing a record is not enough—it does not provide a true clean slate and any agency required to conduct a background check can still see the conviction: they just don’t reply that such a thing publicly exists
- The bill contains sufficient safeguards to ensure we are truly dealing with more minor offenses and that criminal activity has ceased
In Further Detail: If you have a criminal record of any kind, you are going to struggle more in our society. Nearly 90% of employers, 80% of landlords, and 60% of colleges do criminal screens. Multiple state regulations impose restrictions on hiring someone with a criminal history. So why not just seal the record? Employers required by law to do background checks can still see sealed records. So can law enforcement agencies and state attorneys. It is not a true clean slate. Denying that clean slate makes it harder for us to achieve our main goal: functioning members of society who will not commit future crimes. It also can harm the well-being of the defendant’s family and these harms are disproportionately borne by people of color. The bill contains sufficient safeguards to ensure we are truly talking about more minor offenses where public safety should not be a threat and that we are not expunging the record of anyone who has committed another crime or is suspected of doing so (anyone charged with a crime that is found not guilty will make a future expungement list, barring other criminal activity). And research suggests that only 4% of expungement recipients are convicted for subsequent crime and only 1% for violent crimes. This is lower than the general population rate. Look at the list of crimes that aren’t eligible if you are concerned about a day care or police station or government agency hiring someone in this manner. It simply is not the case that the crimes they committed are relevant, in particular if they have demonstrated a move away from criminal life. Finally, it is true we have a petition system for sealing (not expunging) records. But this involves the defendant petitioning the court and paying a fee. People may not have the financial resources to pursue this or even know it is possible. According to the Clean Slate Initiative, only 7% of people get their records cleared in some manner.
- Any automated system that does not involve a judge making an informed decision can err just because the facts aren’t examined—we trust our judges to make judgments, especially if we are going to in essence lie about the past
- Sealing versus expungement is a very different thing: sealed records can be used if the defendant later commits more crimes to establish patterns and sealed records also can’t be seen by the vast majority of places we are worried about
In Further Detail: Any automated system is by definition not going to look at the underlying facts of a case. Every case is of course different and instead of offering blanket expungement, a very severe step, we should have judges putting their eyes on these facts. We entrust our judges with making all sorts of judgements and should do so here as well. We are talking about in essence lying to employers, landlords, and everyone else about someone’s past. For the question, “have you ever been convicted of a crime” the real answer here is yes. Now we may have valid reasons for not informing these folks about the true past, but taking such a large step should not be done lightly or automatically. That sort of lie is also true about sealing records, but sealing is also a vastly different step than expungement. Most of the problem we are concerned about: regular employers, landlords, educational institutions, they cannot see sealed records. But the records are still there, if needed in the future by law enforcement or prosecutors, to establish patterns of past behavior. And for places where we are really concerned about having ex-criminals in positions of employment, like law enforcement, hospitals, government jobs, or organizations that require people to work with children, sealing still provides some visibility. Sealing also brings in our petition process—defendants are free to petition the court to have their records sealed. This of course brings in judges to determine if that is in everyone’s best interests. It is a good system.