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Broad consensus: time to revisit Colorado’s many misdemeanors

| May 21, 2021 | Criminal Defense

It’s likely the case that not many Coloradans get passionate or overly animated when it comes to a discussion of the state’s statutorily listed misdemeanors.

In fact, the term “misdemeanor” is often perceived by the public to relate to criminal conduct of decidedly low import. Prime time courtroom dramas fixate on felonies, not … shoplifting.

Here’s an often unrecognized truth about misdemeanors, though: The criminal penalties tied to them following a conviction can be harsh, even starkly punitive.

And there’s this too: Conduct denoted as a misdemeanor offense in Colorado spans more ground and possibilities than most people even remotely suspect.

Question: How many misdemeanor offenses do you think exist under Colorado law? A hundred or so, perhaps? Maybe twice that number? As many as, say, 500?

All those guesses aren’t even close to being accurate. A recent Colorado Public Radio piece conveys the rather astonishing news that there are approximately 1,100 different behaviors deemed misdemeanors in the state. And those are being materially added to each year.

Why Colorado’s misdemeanor list needs a haircut

It’s hardly a surprise that drunk driving qualifies for prominent inclusion on Colorado’s lengthy misdemeanor list (indeed, it is sometimes a felony offense). But should picking the state flower (the Rocky Mountain Columbine) be alongside it as an entrant? How about drunk paddleboarding? What about – drum roll – “unlawful abandonment of an icebox?”

The point: The sprawling misdemeanor compilation comprises a mishmash of modern wrongdoing and offenses of varied nature that have been progressively tacked on over more than a century. There is strong broad-based agreement that some serious housecleaning is in order.

Introducing a would-be law to reform CO’s misdemeanors

A band of activists, prosecutors, defense counsel and lawmakers spanning both sides of the political aisle began acting with vigor some time back after garnering a mandate to overhaul Colorado’s justice system. A key focus was on paring down and streamlining the state’s out-of-control misdemeanor sprawl.

The result: prospective legislation spanning 366 pages, which is expected to be enacted as law. Colorado Public Radio stresses that, if passed, “the law will affect thousands of Coloradans a day in the criminal justice system.”

The idea was to make administration and enforcement surrounding misdemeanors “a bit more rational,” notes one reformer.

Specific crime-and-punishment adjustments will be addressed in an upcoming post.

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