Colorado State Archives
Executive Orders from the Administration of Governor Bill Owens 1999-2005
May 27, 2005
The Honorable Colorado House of Representatives
Sixty-Fifth General Assembly
First Regular Session
Denver, CO 80203
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am filing with the Secretary of State House Bill 05-1109 "Concerning Juveniles Charged As Adults." I vetoed this bill as of 12:36 p.m. today and this letter sets forth my reasons for doing so.
H.B. 1109 would create a legislative oversight committee to study Colorado's sentencing system as it relates to juveniles convicted as adults for the commission of class one felonies. The legislative oversight committee, composed of eight legislators, would work in conjunction with a 24-member task force to study, and potentially overhaul, Colorado's entire juvenile justice system. The bill is well-intentioned. However, I have serious concerns about the bill's mission and the parameters under which it must operate.
H.B. 1109 does not set forth a specific problem to be solved or demonstrate that the juvenile justice system is broken. Generally, a criminal justice task force is assembled for the purpose of enhancing law enforcement or increasing a punishment based on a "matter of statewide concern". Under these circumstances, the creation of a task force is an efficient method of studying an issue of statewide concern, exploring fiscal impact and allowing for stakeholder input.
H.B. 1109 directs the task force to report back to the Legislative Oversight Committee by March of 2006 on eight specific issues pertaining to many aspects of the juvenile criminal justice system. This timeframe is unrealistic and unworkable. For example, the major overhaul of Colorado's juvenile justice system, which began during the 1993 special session, were not completed until the end of the 1996 legislative session. To achieve its stated goals, the comprehensive examination required by H.B. 1109 requires more than a nine-month review.
The legislative declaration of H.B. 1109 does not state a new policy or set forth a specific failure in the juvenile justice system. Instead, the bill's legislative declaration exhibits a bias, before the task force has even been formed, that certain sentencing practices, which have demonstrably reduced crime in this state, are not working.
H.B. 1109 also scrutinizes the direct file system, which allows District Attorneys to file an adult case against a juvenile in district court. The decision to direct file an adult case against a juvenile is one of the most difficult a district attorney makes. Numerous factors weigh into the decision, including the seriousness of the conduct, prior criminal behavior of the juvenile, age of the juvenile, and the ability of the juvenile system to address the offender's specific circumstances. There is no evidence that this system, which helps keep violent offenders off our streets, is broken. Therefore, the District Attorneys should retain this discretion.
I remain open to discussions of how to enhance Colorado's juvenile justice system. Regrettably, H.B. 1109 is so flawed that it would not have realistically or meaningfully advanced our efforts to enhance public safety through systematic reforms.
Accordingly, I have vetoed this bill.
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