28 April 2017

Denver To Reform Municipal Ordinance Sentencing

All municipal ordinance violations in Denver are currently punishable by up to a year in jail and a $999 fine. The City will reform those penalties, partially to reduce the collateral consequences of ordinance convictions for immigrants and partially to limit discretion to impose harsh sentences for minor offenses.
The city would create three tiers for criminal ordinance violations:
* Top level: Still subject to up to a year in jail and the maximum fine, the category includes sexually motivated offenses, repeat domestic abusers and crimes against at-risk people, such as the elderly. A proposed hate-crimes sentencing enhancement would boost lower-category offenses, such as graffiti or an assault that is motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, to the top level. 
* Middle level: Crimes including shoplifting, trespassing, the first or second instance of domestic violence, and simple assault would be newly eligible for a maximum 300 days in jail and $999 fine. 
* Bottom level: Petty offenses, such as public urination, curfew violations and unauthorized camping — sometimes used against the homeless — would merit less-severe maximum jail time, up to 60 days and a $100 fine in some cases.
Advocates had pushed to reduce the sentence for the top half dozen offenses from a year to 364 days to remove collateral immigration consequences for all ordinance violations.

Interestingly, the City is not looking at a 180 day cutoff for some offenses even though offenses punishable by less than 6 months of incarceration do not implicate the constitutional right to a jury trial. There is a constitutional right to counsel, in contrast, in the case of every offense that can result in incarceration.

In practice, long sentences are rarely given for ordinance violations in any case, so the changes have little budget impact and affect very few cases in practice. Crimes which are also state law crimes are usually only prosecuted as ordinance violations instead when the prosecutor is interested in being lenient. 

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