THE EYES HAVE IT – Colorado’s revolving door for criminals

After arrest for commission of a crime, the defendant may be detained or released, depending on the severity of the alleged crime, and the decision of the presiding judge. Ideally a prompt trial to determine guilt or innocence would be preferable, but given the inefficiency of the criminal justice system, a trial might not take place for months or years, leaving the accused in limbo.

Detaining defendants indefinitely can lead to loss of employment, education, and family structure. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right of a criminal defendant to a speedy public trial, but reality is different, and one solution is release on bail. In 2013, Colorado enacted new laws including a personal recognizance (PR) bond.

As the Colorado Judicial Branch website describes, a PR bond is a signature bond that involves no money or property as long as the defendant appears at all future court dates. The defendant’s signature acts as the promise to appear in court. A judge may require additional persons to sign the bond as well, to ensure the appearance of the defendant in court.

This “promise” may be a leap of faith for some criminals. Following the rules and laws may be challenging for criminals who by their very nature don’t follow the law. When this system of PR bonds goes wrong, it can do so in a big way, as this recent news story describes.

As reported by Denver 7 News, a Colorado criminal, released on a PR bond, continued his crime spree, was issued another PR bond, and pursued his criminal activity. How many crimes must he commit before being detained to protect the public and his crime victims? 

Obviously, the PR bonds weren’t working. And isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a different result? 

This particular criminal was released from jail on a PR bond, traveled from Pueblo to Colorado Springs where he carjacked a new victim. He then tried his hand at armed robbery in Highlands Ranch and was finally arrested again in Denver. Despite committing two crimes while out on PR bond from Pueblo, the Denver judge thought it reasonable to play “catch and release” with this violent criminal.

The Denver judge released him after having the criminal sign a promise to show up at his next court date. How did that work out? As expected.

Still wearing his prison shoes, shortly after the judge ordered him released, the perp robbed someone and stole their vehicle from a Safeway parking lot in Denver. After leading police on a high-speed chase, he was again arrested.

His court appointed attorney, for inexplicable reasons, requested a third PR bond, believing his saint of a client would behave upon release, despite a history to the contrary. The judge, seemingly understanding the above definition of insanity, wisely set bail at $50,000.

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen noted the obvious, “It sure would have been nice if this individual stayed in jail so there wasn’t future victims of crime.” 

This is not a one-off case either. According to Denver 7 News, “Roughly one-third of suspects given a personal recognizance bond in Denver County Court on felony charges fail to show for a future court appearance.” This certainly looks like a revolving door for criminals.

PR bonds are fine for low-risk criminal defendants, but some common sense is needed, or else some of those released will continue their criminal ways, leaving Coloradans vulnerable to harm and property loss. A clogged criminal justice system is poor excuse. Instead fix the system or change the law. Is anyone running for office talking about this? Probably not.