Some juveniles deserve to be charged as adults

Colorado has a system for dealing with violent juvenile criminals that has worked well for nearly 20 years. It allows prosecutors to “direct file” adult criminal charges against violent offenders as young as 14. Youths who are convicted as adults are separately incarcerated and receive education through the Department of Corrections Youth Offender System. The laws were tightened up just two years ago.

Now, some juvenile advocates want to essentially eliminate that system, and make it nearly impossible to file adult charges against juvenile offenders. They have introduced legislation, House Bill 1271, to accomplish their goal. It was approved by a House committee and is awaiting a final vote in the full House.

We hope the bill doesn’t survive in its current form. Some juveniles should be charged as adults because the violence of their crimes.

Take, for instance, Cheyenne Corbet, who was 17 when she abandoned her infant daughter in her mother’s closet, where the infant died. In 2006, Corbet was convicted as an adult of child abuse resulting in death in Mesa County district court. She was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Or consider Thomas English, who in 2007, was convicted on adult charges of attempted first-degree murder for intentionally shooting an acquaintance in the face. He was sentenced to seven years in the Youth Offender System, but has been removed from that facility due o behavior issues. He was sentenced to 24 years in adult prison.

Both will have violent felony convictions on their records when they are released. If they had been charged only through the juvenile justice system, those crimes would be expunged.

If HB 1271 passes, adult charges could not be filed against someone like English, because it would prohibit any direct files on suspects younger than age 16.

But even in the case of a 17-year-old like Corbet, the bill would remove discretion for direct filings from prosecutors and turn it over to judges. It would also create a process so complicated and expensive that it would effectively prohibit filing adult charges against juveniles in most instances, Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, writing in The Denver Post last week, said the legislation “would dismantle the 1993 reforms and return Colorado to the system that proved so ineffective in dealing with juvenile violence.”

It’s not as if prosecutors are abusing their discretion. Last year, throughout Colorado, only 61 juveniles were charged as adults, out of more than 9,000 juvenile cases that were eligible under the law, Suthers said.

Here in Mesa County since 2006, 24 juveniles have had direct files into adult court, out of hundreds of eligible juvenile cases, Hautzinger said. All of the direct-file cases involved of violent crimes or multiple, repeat offenses such as home burglaries.

Hautzinger and prosecutors around the state have used sparingly their authority to file adult charges against juveniles. But they have used it when warranted by a youngster’s violent behavior. They should continue to have that authority and House Bill 1271 should be killed or significantly amended.


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