Gov. Jared Polis’ signed a bill Thursday preventing people accused of many low-level offenses — such as petty, traffic or most municipal charges — from being jailed because they can’t pay their cash bail.
That also means people currently locked up in Colorado on those types of charges, who are unable to pay their bail, must be released. At least one county believes there are several people being held in their facility who might be eligible.
“If you are thinking about putting someone in jail right now for a low-level offense and putting cash bail on them for $100 or $200 or $300, you can’t do it anymore,” said state Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat.
Some of those minor offenses could include: having an open container, trespassing and/or shoplifting less than $50 worth of goods. There are exceptions carved out for people accused of a traffic offense involving death or injury, operating a vehicle after circumventing a device meant to check a driver’s blood-alcohol level, or eluding a police officer.
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, who heads up the County Sheriffs Of Colorado organization, said he doesn’t think the signing of House Bill 1225 will have a major, immediate impact on jail operations throughout the state.
“Here’s the thing: there’s very few — very few — cases that we house people on that are petty offenses,” Spurlock said.
Spurlock said only a handful of people are sent to his jail on municipal charges. He said he expects any jail holding a person on a petty offense will release them immediately.
“The fewer the people we have in our jails the happier we are, particularly with those low-level crimes,” he said.
Routt County Undersheriff Doug Scherar, for instance, said that his county’s jail wasn’t holding anyone charged with a municipal or petty offense Thursday. “All are misdemeanor or above.”
El Paso County’s Sheriff’s Office for the most part doesn’t house inmates who are accused of offenses lower than a felony, instead releasing them with a summons unless there are extenuating circumstances mandating they be jailed.
However, spokeswoman Natalie Sosa said the county’s jail Thursday afternoon was holding four people who failed to appear in court for low-level crimes who could be impacted by the legislation. Sosa said those cases would have to go before a court before the people could be released.
“We don’t release them until they go through a judge,” she said.
Boulder County’s Sheriff’s Office isn’t sure how many people in its jail Thursday would have to be released.
“When we looked at our current jail population about a week and a half ago, our in-custody population rate was 400 at the jail and there were approximately 25 people who would have been released under this bill,” said Cmdr. Mike Wagner, a spokesman.
The Denver Sheriff Department did not immediately have statistics available to share on Thursday, but the repeal of cash bail for low-level offenses has its roots in the 2015 death of Michael Marshall in Denver’s jail. He was being held on a $100 bond he couldn’t pay stemming from charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace when he died in an encounter with Denver jail deputies. His death resulted in a $4.6 million settlement. His niece, Natalia Marshall, attended the bill signing in Polis’ office Thursday.
“The offense that he was charged with as of right now — I get shudders thinking about it — is one that he could not be held (for) moving forward,” said Elisabeth Epps, a bail reform advocate.
Denise Maes, public policy director with the ALCU of Colorado, says her organization will start informing counties of the new law and then take action if they find out about people who are being held in lieu of bail on low-level accusations.
House Bill 1225 passed through the Colorado legislature with unanimous support.