Bill introduced in Colorado House would reinstate no bail for murder suspects

DENVER — Currently, any Colorado defendant charged with first-degree murder has the right to bail. Sponsors and supporters of a new bill introduced in the Colorado House of Representatives hope to make the charge a non-bailable offense.

This comes in the wake of the People v. Smith decision from June 2023, in which the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously ruled that because the state had abolished the death penalty, any person charged with first-degree murder after July 1, 2020 must have the right to bail.

After this ruling, bail hearings began popping up on court dockets for defendants who were previously being held on no bond — something multiple lawmakers called an “unintended consequence.” In the past year, this has resulted in sky-high bonds, such as:

House Bill 24-1225, titled First Degree Murder Bail & Jury Selection Statute, has bipartisan support and reads that while everybody has the right to bail, there are certain exceptions for people charged with capital offenses (although, practically, there are no capital cases in Colorado due to the repeal of the death penalty, however this language still exists in statutes). This bill, introduced on Feb. 8, aims to add first-degree murder when proof is evident or presumption is great to the list of exceptions.

Bill introduced in Colorado House would reinstate no bail for murder suspects

It was introduced alongside House Concurrent Resolution 24-1002, or HCR24-1002 for short, which would refer a constitutional amendment to Colorado voters that would make an exception to the right to bail for cases where a defendant is facing a first-degree murder charge and the proof is evident or presumption is great.

Both HB24-1225 and HCR24-1002 passed in the judiciary hearing on Wednesday afternoon by an 8-2 vote.

It will now move to the floor of the Colorado House of Representatives and, if passed there, will then proceed to the Colorado Senate. If the bill ultimately passes, the decision to make first-degree a non-bailable offense will land in the lap of voters in November 2024.

During the hearing Wednesday, multiple district attorneys from around the state spoke in support of the bill. Travis Sides, district attorney of the 13th Judicial District, said the biggest concern he hears from families of victims is if, or when, a defendant will get out of jail.

“It’s all they ask — it’s all they care about,” he said.

Denver7 360 | In-Depth News, Opinion

Should first-degree murder suspects have a right to bond in Colorado?

12:53 AM, Aug 19, 2023

Brian Mason, district attorney of the 17th Judicial District, added that his jurisdiction currently has more than 30 first-degree murder cases. One of them posted a $500,000 bond, he said.

“So he’s out right now, even though he’s facing life without the possibility of parole,” he said.

Courtenay Whitelaw, mother of Riley Whitelaw, who was brutally murdered by a coworker in June 2022 in Colorado Springs, also said she supported the bill. She testified that this loophole — “a gaping wound,” she called it — must be closed. She said she felt her daughter nudging her to testify during Wednesday’s hearing.

Riley Whitelaw

Family of Riley Whitelaw

Riley Whitelaw

Whitelaw said the defendant in her daughter’s case, who has since been convicted, was held without bond after his arrest in 2022. On June 21, 2023, just after the Colorado Supreme Court ruling, a prosecutor notified her that the defendant would have a hearing about his bail.

“I was blindsided by the fact that this could happen,” she said.

Bail was set at $10 million.

“Yet it still felt wrong that bond was even an option afforded to this killer, no matter the amount,” Whitelaw said.

The defendant was found guilty in October 2023.

“I hope you allow Coloradans to decide at the ballot,” she concluded during her testimony.

Nobody spoke in opposition to the bill.

The bill’s prime sponsors are Rep. Monica Duran (D-Jefferson County), House Minority Leader Rep. Mike Lynch (R-Larimer and Weld counties), Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) and Sen. Bob Gardner (R-El Paso and Teller counties).

Ahead of the hearing Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Fields said she believes Coloradans want a fair system, and this bill supports that. She said no-bail offenses are important in some cases where the proof is evident and presumption is great.

Fields said that even with bonds recently set in the millions for first-degree murder charges, some people still have the means to bond out.

“But if you’re someone who doesn’t have access to that kind of capital – you would just have to stay in jail,” she said.

So, there’s no equity to the current system, she added, as it favors the rich and those with means to pay large sums of money to post bail.

Everybody should have the right to bail but “murder is different” because it’s loss of life, Fields said. Her son was murdered in a shooting in 2005.

Liberties vs. safety: Should first-degree murder suspects have a right to bond in Colorado?

Sen. Gardner, also a sponsor, said leadership on both sides of the aisle are working to change the state constitution to restore first-degree murder as a non-bailable offense.

“Instead of saying ‘capital crime,’ it will say, ‘first-degree murder,'” he said of the proposed change. “And then HB24-1225 is the statutory implementation of that.”

Families are distraught when they learn that the defendant who allegedly murdered their loved one now must have a bond, he said.

“But it’s very disturbing to the victims, when in the past, they would have been told, ‘This person is not getting out. They will be in the county jail pending trial,'” he continued.

Gardner said he is confident that Colorado voters will agree to change this verbiage in the constitution, given the chance in November.

“Of a handful of things down here this session, this has a very strong bipartisan support,” he said. “I would predict it will sail through with very strong bipartisan support and will be on the ballot in November. That is the major delay — it must go to a vote of the people because it is changing the constitution. But I expect by early next year, we won’t be living with this situation.”

D7 follow up bar 2460x400FINAL.png

The Follow Up

What do you want Denver7 to follow up on? Is there a story, topic or issue you want us to revisit? Let us know with the contact form below.

Similar Articles


Most Popular