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February 19, 2006

Teen crime, adult time in Colorado

Examining tough sentencing for juvenile offenders, the Denver Post this morning has this long and thoughtful article entitled "Teen Crime, Adult Time: Laws converge to put teens away forever."  The article, which is the first part in a four-part series, draws on the paper's investigation revealing the following interesting data and insights about juvenile justice in Colorado:

  • Colorado prosecutors filed 1,244 cases that resulted in juvenile convictions in adult courts since 1998....
  • Forty-four cases involved offenders who were 14 — the earliest they can be directly charged as adults — at the time of their crimes.
  • Of 1,625 total charges, about one-third involved robbery or assault; less than 3 percent involved homicide.
  • Flawed investigations and questionable defense work have compounded legal problems for teens in life-without-parole cases....
  • Felony murder charges are applied disproportionately to Colorado youths. Among juveniles sentenced to life since 1998, 60 percent went to prison on felony murder convictions, compared with 24 percent of adult cases....
  • Colorado law provides no guarantees that a guardian ad litem or parent will be present during police interrogations and other steps in the adult justice system.  In at least six cases reviewed, an adult advocate was not present during a key phase in the legal process.

As I have suggested before, I think that, in the wake of the Roper decision precluding the application of the death penalty to juvenile offenders, the next notable Eighth Amendment battleground could be other tough sentences for juveniles.  Also, stories about the juvenile justice system reinforce my instinct that many other defendants besides those on death row merit the attention of public policy groups and others concerned about the operation of our criminal justice system.

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