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Data Stories

Deep dives into the First Judicial District Attorney's office.

Seeking Justice for Homicide Victims

By Alexis King · 2024-05-08

The 1st Judicial District Attorney’s commitment to maintaining a safe and healthy community for Jefferson and Gilpin County residents includes effectively and ethically holding people who victimize others accountable. Seeking justice for victims of homicide and their families is our highest priority.

In 2018, Colorado’s violent crime rate surpassed the national rate.

Nonetheless, like many communities, we experienced a peak in homicides in 2020, and while rates have been declining since then, they have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. Our homicide case filings by year are shown below. Approximately one-quarter of local homicides involve multiple defendants; each defendant is charged in their own case, so there are always more case filings than actual homicides. For example, in 2022, 25 homicide cases were filed for 15 deaths in the 1st Judicial District.

Homicide is the unlawful killing of a person by another. Here, we include murder in the first degree (“Murder 1”), murder in the second degree (“Murder 2”), and Felony Murder (when an individual is killed during the course of a felony committed by the defendant). More than 2/3 of our homicide filings are for Murder 1.

Although homicide cases comprised only 25 of the 18,403 cases we filed in 2023, they are much more likely to go to trial than other cases, and we dedicate a significant portion of our office resources to effectively prosecuting homicide cases.

Our Victim Witness Unit serves family members and loved ones throughout the case and during trial by providing support, information, and safe spaces such as the Porchlight Family Justice Center and the Victim Witness Center at the Courthouse.

Families also get to know our paralegals, a dedicated unit assigned to homicides and the unsung heroes of securing justice for murder victims. Our paralegal unit was one of the first in the state and supports the prosecution of homicide cases by:

·        Organizing, triaging, and sorting through a tremendous amount of media and electronic evidence ·        Helping with case strategy ·        Ordering CBI reports and coroner files ·        Filing motions and subpoenas ·        Organizing discovery, and ·        Keeping cases moving towards trial.

Paralegals play a crucial role in jury trials, often the first to arrive and the last to leave each day. They meticulously prepare displays, organize evidence, and create presentations for the jury. Collectively, they have contributed to over 100 trials and boast a combined experience of over a century within our office. Each member brings a unique skill set, from paralegal certifications from the State of Colorado to a master’s degree in Criminal Justice. One team member supports the Economic Crime Unit with specialized knowledge in forensic analysis and accounting, while another is nationally recognized for their expertise in detainer and extradition law. Because of the expertise and essential support provided by our paralegal unit, nearly 90% of our homicide cases since 2017 have resulted in convictions.

Pathways Juvenile Diversion

By Sue Ferrere · 2024-01-18

“Pathways’ success shows that in our community young people who come into contact with law enforcement can benefit from diversion programs and community partners. I am proud of our investment in policies and strategies that prevent unnecessary justice system involvement, and help young people get the support they need to move forward.” – 1st Judicial District Attorney Alexis King

Our juvenile diversion programs provide an opportunity for young people to avoid a criminal record and further contact with the criminal justice system. Juveniles and young adults suspected of a crime are initially assessed at the Juvenile Assessment Center (“JAC”). More than half are referred for Diversion programming, including Pathways, Sexting Solutions, and the Low-Risk Offender Program (LROP). Juvenile prosecution focuses on higher risk juveniles who have committed multiple offenses or are suspected of serious crimes.

It's important to note that when we talk about “risk” in this context, we’re talking about risk of future involvement in the system. A risk assessment evaluates the factors in an individual’s life that make them more or less likely to be involved in the system in the future; for example, supportive family members and school enrollment are protective factors against future involvement whereas use of alcohol or drugs is a risk factor for future system involvement. The term “needs,” in this context, include interventions - like behavioral health treatment or employment skills training - that bolster protective factors or reduce risk factors

In 2023, 23% of juvenile cases were diverted through the Pathways diversion program. Our Pathways Encourage and Engage program (E&E) provides an alternative to traditional prosecution tailored to a juvenile’s individual risks/needs. Clients range from 10 to 17 years old, but most are between 14 and 16. Approximately 70% of referrals are pre-file (meaning the case was a direct referral to Pathways and has not been filed into the court system). Most (65%) are charged with a misdemeanor, while only 25% of juvenile defendants accepted into Pathways diversion are accused of felonies. These felonies are lower-level, and less than 25% of Pathways E&E cases involve VRA offenses. A “VRA” offense is covered by the Victim Rights Act, which outlines the rights of crime victims and the responsibilities of criminal justice agencies to support them. See also our data story Serving Victims of Crime.

Pathways juvenile clients are assessed for their risks, strengths, and needs using a screening tool and/or full risk assessment. Once assessed, the clients meet with an experienced client specialist who develops individualized programming targeted to the juvenile’s risks and needs. For example, if a juvenile is accused of theft and the risk assessment indicates substance use as a risk factor for future system involvement, the programming would likely involve substance use assessment and treatment.

Outcomes. Since its inception in 2022, the Pathways program has had an impressive success rate of 91% for juvenile participants. Upon successful completion of the program, the juvenile's case is either dismissed or not filed at all, and the records are sealed.

Benefits.  In addition to avoiding a criminal record, juveniles experience improved school enrollment, a known protective factor against justice system involvement. At the time of arrest, 8% of participants were not enrolled in school, were truant, or were suspended. At completion, 100% of juveniles who were truant at the start were re-enrolled or had completed school.

Recidivism.  Because the program is relatively new, there is limited but very encouraging recidivism data. 57 juveniles completed Pathways at least one year ago, and none have had a new case filed in the 1st Judicial District.

Strategies to Improve Court Appearance

By Sue Ferrere & Jennifer Kilpatrick · 2023-08-31

Individuals charged in a criminal case are required to appear in Court as determined by the Court’s schedule. If a defendant misses a Court date, that absence is recorded as a “Failure to Appear” (FTA) and a bench warrant is issued, which can trigger arrest and jailing, often for minor offenses. The repercussions cascade: Cases with FTA’s take longer to resolve, victims experience a delay in justice, District Attorney and Court caseloads become backlogged, and taxpayers bear the costs of missed hearings [1] and increased bookings into the jail. While some defendants may be avoiding prosecution, studies show that most missed court appearances are unintentional. Failures to appear at doctors’ appointments occur at similar rates to court dates and the primary reasons are the same: forgetfulness, transportation issues, and schedule conflicts.[2] However, there is now abundant science on how technology and supportive strategies based on behavioral principles can improve court appearance. The most effective intervention is the same one your dentist and stylist use: reminder texts.

The Colorado Judicial Branch implemented a court date reminder program, in stages, over the past several years. [3] Initially it was opt-in but evolved to universal, where all criminal cases now receive a reminder unless the person opts out. We recently took a look at how the text reminder program impacted County Court arraignments (first court appearance, typically after receiving a summons).

Overall, for 12,872 arraignments between January 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023, there was a 61% court appearance rate and a 39% failure to appear (FTA) rate. That is nearly 5,000 missed hearings over 18 months, for traffic and misdemeanor cases alone.

However, there was a noticeable difference between the first half of 2022 and the first half of 2023, when court date reminders went full scale. Court appearance rates increased by 16% between 2022 and 2023 – the equivalent of 1,000 more people showing up for their court date in the first half of 2023 than in the first half of 2022. The improvement is in line with that seen by other text reminder programs, including the program piloted locally in Jefferson County more than a decade ago.[4]

Court appearance rates improved for both misdemeanor (M) and traffic (T) cases, but reminder texts appear to have a greater impact on T cases. M cases’ court appearance rates increased by 13% (35% to 48%) whereas T cases increased 17% (62% to 79%).

Additional Strategies to Improve Court Appearance

Court date reminder texts improved appearance rates, but some types of cases showed greater improvement than others. For example, the appearance rate for DUI cases improved by approximately 20 percentage points to 85%.[5] On the other hand, appearance rates for drug and property cases remain below 50% even after implementation of reminder texts.

The 1st Judicial District Attorney, in collaboration with other justice system stakeholders and the Jefferson County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC), is exploring other strategies and targeted interventions to further improve court appearance rates. These include:

  • Uniform and Modernized Summons Design

A well-designed law enforcement summons is crucial to court appearance. The Court opens a criminal case based on it and uses the defendant’s contact information for a text reminder, which can only be effective if that information is accurate and reliable. For the defendant, the summons should contain pertinent, accessible information about their court date, time, and location. We are reviewing local law enforcement summonses to see if updates are warranted.

  • Supportive Interventions

We are also exploring ways to support court appearance beyond text reminders, since a disproportionate number of individuals with criminal cases experience homelessness, behavioral health needs, and financial instability. A good example of a local innovation is Lakewood’s Community Outreach Court, which brings Court to the community once a month, and also provides access to resources.

[1] Estimated at $1,000 per missed hearing, see Impact of Failure to Appear

[2] Getting Patients in the Door: Medical Appointment Reminder Preferences

[3] Mandated by Colorado Senate Bill 19-036 and expanded in Senate Bill 22-018

[4] Schnacke, Timothy R.; Jones, Michael R.; and Wilderman, Dorian M., "Increasing Court-Appearance Rates and Other Benefits of Live-Caller Telephone Court-Date Reminders: The Jefferson County, Colorado, FTA Pilot Project and Resulting Court Date Notification Program" (2012). Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association. 393

[5] Even text reminders for doctors’ appointments top out at ~90%: