Hickenlooper faces tough decision on ‘Direct File’ bill

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DENVER — Gov. John Hickenlooper has until next Monday to sign or veto controversial legislation that would strip Colorado district attorneys of their ability to unilaterally decide whether to charge juvenile offenders as adults.

Hickenlooper’s spokesman, Eric Brown, told FOX31 Denver Tuesday that the governor is still considering the bill and may not take action on it until the end of this week or even next Monday.

House Bill 1271 might seem like an easy call, having been ushered through the House and Senate by bipartisan sponsors and having passed each chamber by wide margins with support from both sides of the aisle.

But most of the state’s district attorneys, none more outspoken on the issue than Denver’s Mitch Morrissey, have gone to the mattresses to kill this bill and they continue an eleventh hour lobbying effort hoping to convince Hickenlooper to veto it.

As the bill was still being debated by lawmakers, Hickenlooper reportedly indicated to the bill’s supporters that he was likely to sign it into law as long as it wasn’t amended along the way; and its sponsors saw to it that no amendments were slapped on.

And now, as the deadline approaches?

“He’s holding this one very close to the vest,” said a source close to the process.

It would take a veto order from Hickenlooper by Monday to prevent the bill from becoming law, which would happen even without the governor’s signature.

A long investigative report by 5280 Magazine and another study by the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition, both of which have championed the legislation, have painted a picture of a direct file system in dire need of reform.

Together, they’ve shown how the vast majority of direct file cases in Colorado since 1999 have involved mid- to low-level felony convictions, often against teenagers who had never been held in the juvenile system, and that 95 percent of them were resolved through plea bargains and never reviewed by a judge.

Morrissey and others opposed to the new legislation — including the Denver Post editorial board — have argued that the added judicial review will cost the state money it doesn’t have, and harm a juvenile justice system that’s finally working well.

Morrissey also noted that most juveniles convicted in direct file cases end up in Colorado’s youthful offender system, which has a specialized facility in Pueblo that allows the most dangerous teenagers to be held separate from adult inmates.

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