City to take up court changes

ALAMOSA  — Sending fewer people to jail — and making that less of an option to begin with — is one of the goals for the Alamosa city council decriminalizing municipal offenses.

The city council will discuss decriminalization of municipal offenses tonight during a work session at 6 p.m., with an ordinance pending at a later date. Factors prompting changes in the city’s ordinances concerning municipal infractions and penalties include changes in state laws as well as an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado report last fall that criticized the city’s treatment of municipal offenders.

One of the recent changes to state law, for example, requires court appointed counsel for indigent defendants in custody at their first appearance if their charges could include the possibility of incarceration, something the city council would like to avoid as much as possible while maintaining some flexibility in sentencing for the municipal judge, particularly for people who are repeat offenders.

The municipal court can sentence offenders to as much as one year in jail. However, many of the offenses before the city court are civil infractions, with potential penalties consisting of fines and costs, not jail time.
The city’s proposed ordinance concerning municipal court changes states that not imposing incarceration or even holding that as a potential sentence over a defendant is a more efficient and effective system of code enforcement.

As far as incarceration for nonpayment of fines, the city has not enforced that portion of its code since state statute now prohibits it. The city will be amending its code to reflect the change.

In still providing the municipal judge flexibility in sentencing repeat offenders, the proposed ordinance will also list a number that the council sets for repeat offenses that could result in jail time.