While a key race is still too short to be phoned, the Democrats flipped two large seats in the Colorado District Attorney in a change of power that will affect how thousands of criminal cases are handled on the Front Range and criminal justice reform in the Statehouse could change.
The two seats flipped by the Democrats – the first and eighth judicial districts, which cover Jefferson and Larimer city councils – had been occupied by Republicans for decades, and the candidates that won ran on platforms that promised the criminal systems to shake up their districts.
“This is an indicator that Colorado is looking for a new public health and safety lens that is accountable, equitable, equitable and fair,” said Juston Cooper, executive director of CCJRC4Action, a criminal justice nonprofit . “Historically, they haven’t always thought that way. I think it’s a new day for Colorado prosecutors. “
The postponement comes as Colorado lawmakers are likely to propose major changes to the state’s criminal justice system again next year to fuel the reforms implemented in the previous two sessions. Legislators will talk about bail reform, changes to penal practices, and continued implementation of the police accountability law passed this summer, said Denise Maes, director of public order for the Colorado ACLU.
“The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council has a strong presence in the capital,” said Maes, who works on criminal law. “You have a significant impact. We are pleased to see that this can change and that you are committed to reforming the criminal justice system. “
The shift towards reform-minded prosecutors is not unique to Colorado. District attorney candidates in major cities like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago have run – and won – platforms aimed at reducing the number of people in jail, assessing racial differences, and abandoning the practice of people having to pay money to do that To leave prison.
“It’s definitely not just Colorado,” said Alissa Marque Heydari, associate director of the Institute for Innovation in Law Enforcement at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “As recently as 10 years ago, people weren’t paying much attention to prosecutor races, and in recent years people have started paying more attention to the criminal justice system, and prosecutors in particular.”
The race for the chief prosecutor’s office in the state’s most populous judicial district remained too narrow to be called on Friday. The gap between candidates vying to succeed temporary Republican George Brauchler in the 18th judicial district, which includes Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties, fell to 49 at some point when the votes were counted last week.
The competitive race in a district that has had many high profile cases recently, including the 2019 STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting and the 2012 Aurora Theater shooting, has garnered national attention. If Democrat Amy Padden wins the race against Republican John Kellner, it will be the first time since 1968 that a Democrat has held the seat, and the first time in at least 50 years that all four judicial districts in the greater Denver area have been represented by Democrats.
If Padden wins, the Democrats will have two more district attorney seats than they did after the 2016 election. Since the 2000 election, the distribution of political affiliations among Colorado prosecutors has been very uneven. In 2000, the Democrats won 11 of the positions, but in 2004 the Republicans won 16 of the 22 positions, data from the Colorado Secretary of State shows. The distribution of positions has since been between these two numbers.
Both Democrats and Republican candidates for front range seats announced plans for change, Cooper said. Growing awareness of the criminal justice system – reinforced by nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequalities in the system in the summer – helped draw attention to prosecutors’ races, he said.
“I would like to believe that the national outcry for racial justice has influenced the people who care about the people and want them openly to know who their prosecutor is,” said Alexis King, the first Democrat to become district attorney in the First Judicial District Gilpin County has been elected since 2000. “We have a lot of power in the criminal justice system.”
All of the candidates for front range seats pointed to the importance of alternatives to sending people to jail, but some of the candidates who won some of the most competitive races in the region – the first, eighth and 17th districts – said they wanted to change bail practices and provide the public with better data on their practices and outcomes.
“People want a new approach to criminal justice,” said Gordon McLaughlin, who won the prosecution race in the eighth judicial district, which also straddles Jackson County, and will be the first Democrat to hold the position since the 1970s . “People want this community to be safe, but they also want other lower-level crime options, like those related to substance use and mental health.”
Apart from a shift in political composition, the majority of the district attorney’s seats will be filled with newcomers. Only eight of the state’s 22 seats will be occupied by incumbents in January as some incumbents were temporary or defeated in the primaries or general election.
“In general, the votes at the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council table will change,” said King, who was the first woman elected to the DA in the First Judicial District.