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Law of the West

John Scorsine
Peyton, Colo.

I was spending some time the other day looking over the progress that the Colorado General Assembly was making with its session. It was then that I discovered a Bill sponsored by Paul Weissmann of Boulder. It is House Bill 1094. Now, what would you think of a piece of legislation that could, if passed, save taxpayers $3,200,000 each time it was used; put Colorado among the top 12 states in the Country; solve crime; distinguish us from such countries as China, North Korea and Cuba; and, be supported by more people than who oppose it? Drafting such a law would certainly be a great piece of work. Well, that is exactly what Representative Weissmann has done.

House Bill 1094 repeals the death penalty in Colorado. At the same time, it directs that the funds saved by the elimination of the death penalty be used to create a cold case unit within the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to bring criminals to justice that the mere passage of time would otherwise allow to escape the consequences of their actions. The Bill has passed the House Judiciary committee by a vote of seven to four. With any luck it is headed to the Appropriations Committee and then the House and Senate for votes. Over the years, polls have demonstrated that public opinion has turned against the death penalty, especially in light of sentencing alternatives such as “life without the possibility of parole.” Last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center executions dropped to their lowest level in ten years, thanks in part to states having to deal with wrongful convictions and botched executions. By the way, Colorado only has two offenders on death row.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia have stepped away from the hangman. Recently the State of Washington determined that a capital murder trial and initial appeal costs roughly $770,000 more than a non-death penalty case. The State of Florida has crunched the numbers even more and determined that each execution in that state has cost taxpayers an average of $3,200,000. New Jersey found that since 1983 it has eaten up $253,000,000 on death penalty cases and they haven’t executed any of their death row inmates since 1976! There are 11 on death row in New Jersey.

Worldwide the death penalty is banned in Europe and the majority of countries. The United States has the distinction of standing with China, Iran and Saudi Arabia as accounting for 94 percent of the executions in the World, according to Amnesty International.

The benefit of this law in Colorado will be significant. Many have heard of the volunteer cold case unit in El Paso County which brings criminals to answer for their crimes and returns justice and closure to their victims. By redirecting our limited financial resources to apprehension of criminals, who would otherwise go free, our streets will be safer. Yet, those that would otherwise face the death penalty will still remain safely locked away for their lives without the opportunity for parole. At the Judiciary Committee hearing on February 7, the comments from many of those that addressed the committee said just that; especially the victims of crime. Twenty eight witnesses addressed the Committee and only four spoke in opposition to the Bill ” three of those were or represented prosecuting attorneys.

Whatever your view on the death penalty, or a host of other topics, it is important to let your voice be heard. While our legislature is in session, call or e-mail your representatives and senators. Let them know your views. You can locate your representative and senator at the General Assembly’s website, http://www.leg.state.co.us/.

The information provided in this column is based upon general principles of law and should not be relied upon in any manner. It is not the intent of this column, its author, publisher or the Fence Post to provide legal advice to any person. You should address specific legal questions to your family lawyer. In Wyoming, the State Bar can refer you to competent lawyers in your community by calling (307) 634-7823. In Colorado, call the Metropolitan Lawyer Referral Service at (303) 831-8000. Readers in Nebraska can receive referrals from the State Bar Association by calling 1-800-742-3005.


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