DA pushing to get low-risk offenders out of system
Mesa County prosecutors last week were optimistic about prospects for funding of a $340,000 proposal that would remove up to 200 adult felony cases annually from the justice system, largely in favor of treatment.
Their optimism remains despite a recent denial of grant funding for the project by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.
Dan Rubinstein, chief deputy district attorney for the 21st Judicial District, said a formal appeal of the denial has been lodged.
Approximately 300 adults are granted deferred sentences annually in Mesa County, meaning convictions in the cases can be wiped clean if defendants stay clear of trouble and comply with various court conditions over a certain period.
Under the proposed project, prosecutors would divert up to 200 of those same cases out of the justice system entirely. Participants would not have guilty pleas on their records. They would be monitored by two coordinators hired with grant funds.
People accepted in the program would include drug-addicted offenders considered amenable for treatment, or people suspected in low-level property crimes.
Prosecutors said a pitfall of the current deferred judgments is that offenders can face employment, housing and other problems that decrease their likelihood of successfully completing the deferred sentences.
While touting a possible decrease in recidivism, prosecutors eye savings in the court system. Participants may have a single court appearance to attend, depending on the case.
Prosecutors pointed out in their application that a deferred-judgement case now can require: three to eight court hearings; review by at least two judges; the work of multiple members of the District Attorney’s Office; and a private or state-funded defense attorney that can cost the defendant several thousand dollars.
Mesa County’s proposal would be funded by federal dollars, which are being doled out by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice. If approved, the project would be funded for three years and begin this fall. Absent grant dollars, it won’t happen anytime soon, Rubinstein said.
“It’s not a good time to be going to the county,” he said.
Since hitting peak levels in Mesa County in 2005 with 2,223 cases, felony filings declined to a low of 1,656 in 2010.