Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bail-bond Measure Ignites Passions

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The battle over Proposition 102, a measure on the November ballot that would affect how judges set bail in criminal cases, has focused on Larimer County in recent days.

On Monday, a vocal group of about 40 people gathered outside the administration building of the Larimer County Sheriff's Office to protest Sheriff Jim Alderden's opposition to Proposition 102.

Waving signs, American flags and chanting, the protesters called for the end to "criminal welfare," which is how they refer to county-administered pretrial services that allow defendants to stay out of jail through personal recognizance or cash-backed bonds.

Proposition 102 would prohibit judges from assigning defendants to pretrial services on unsecured bonds other than first-time offenders accused of nonviolent misdemeanor crimes. Other defendants could be assigned to pretrial-service supervision if they are released on surety bonds obtained through a bail-bond agency for a fee.

Ten counties across the state have pretrial services, with Larimer County having one of the largest programs. The county's program has taken decision-making about bail out of the hands of judges, said Robert Trucker, outreach director for Safe Streets Colorado, a campaign committee backing the proposal.

"I don't believe giving criminals a 'get out of jail free card' at taxpayer expense makes sense for anyone, including the criminal," he said.

Alderden and Sharon Winfree, who supervises the county's pretrial release program, were named in a complaint filed last week with the Secretary of State's Office claiming opponents of Proposition 102 violated state campaign finance law by not registering as a campaign committee.

Also named in the complaint by Sarah Millett of Centennial were Scott Storey, the district attorney in Jefferson County, state Attorney General John Suthers, and the Pretrial Justice Institute, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. All have publically spoken against Proposition 102.

Opponents have since registered as Citizens to Protect Colorado Communities. Spokesperson Stefanie Clarke - who was also named in the complaint - said the complaint is a "publicity stunt" aimed at distracting voters.

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