Routt County takes lead as 14th Judicial District studies offering pretrial services
County staff will help hire consultant to study program's potential
Routt County commissioners signaled on Monday the county could take the lead studying if the 14th Judicial District needs a pretrial services program and what that program might look like.
Talks about standing up a new program that would offer defendants services as simple as a reminder for when their next court date is have been in the works for several months.
District Chief Judge Michael O’Hara said the number of these programs has increased in Colorado, though they are less common in sprawling, rural judicial districts like the 14th, which includes Routt, Moffat and Grand counties.
“It can be difficult and challenging to get this together in a rural district,” said Matt Karzen, 14th Judicial District Attorney. “From my viewpoint, I think it’s really important to identify do we need it, and what do we need, and then build around that.”
Both Moffat and Grand counties are in support of looking into adding these services and have indicated financial support. There was not a vote on Monday, but Routt County commissioners directed staff to help Karzen and O’Hara hire a consultant who could help assess the potential for a program.
Karzen said he favored this approach rather than simply adopting another jurisdiction’s pretrial services program because some models he has seen are better than others.
The hope is that pretrial services could be a more equitable system than the various bonds that are issued locally right now and will help decrease the number of people who don’t show up for court in the district.
The purpose of the current bond system is twofold, O’Hara said. It is about ensuring public safety and getting someone to return for court. In most cases, this requires them to put up a sum of money or property to be released prior to trial.
“Someone who comes into custody and is poor or does not have a track record locally, does not have family that lives here, does not have a job here … their bonds tend to be higher,” O’Hara said. “That just puts it more and more out of reach for folks who couldn’t reach it in the first place. And then they sit in jail while they wait for their day in court for trial.”
State law guarantees that a “speedy trial” needs to happen within six months of a not guilty plea, which itself can come long after a case started, O’Hara said.
“We’re talking about a year before people get to trial,” he said, emphasizing how long defendants can sit in jail without being convicted of a crime.
Pretrial services would potentially replace aspects of the current bond system. Instead of O’Hara issuing a bond for a small amount of money — as low as a few hundred dollars — that person could get a case manager who would help them through the process, understand when they had to be in court and remind them to show up.
With cooperation from a defendant, these services could eventually include connecting people with services for drug or alcohol abuse as well, O’Hara said.
“We’re hoping to fund that study and identify what the needs are and what the program might look like,” Karzen said. “Then start talking about, is it feasible? Is it worth doing?”
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