Colorado is changing how it sentences people found guilty of felony murder
Colorado has loosened the sentencing standard for people convicted of being present for but not actually responsible for a killing, bringing it down from an automatic sentence of life without parole to a sentence of between 16 and 48 years in prison.
Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed into law SB21-124, a bill that he said ensures the “punishment fits the crime.”
“The person who did the murder should do the most time,” Polis said. “If you’re standing there, you are guilty. This keeps that. … (But) you’re not in jail as long as someone who pulled the trigger, or stabbed a person.”
This new law doesn’t apply to past cases and won’t take effect in courts until Sept. 15.
Current law has put people in prison for life, without parole, for cases in which they didn’t kill anyone. That’s because Coloradans can be charged with felony murder if someone dies during a variety of crimes, such as robbery or arson, even if someone else killed the person or there was no intent to kill.
There have been several high-profile examples of this kind of sentencing, including Sam Mandez, who received life without parole for standing watch as a 14-year-old while some kids he knew broke into a house and killed a woman in Weld County. There was no evidence connecting Mandez to that killing; he was resentenced in 2019 and will be released soon.
In another case, Curtis Brooks was sentenced to life without parole for being in a group of people who robbed and killed someone in Aurora, even though Brooks, then 15, did not pull the trigger or want anyone to die. Polis granted him clemency in 2019.
The bill was sponsored and mostly supported by Democrats. Three Republicans voted for it in the Senate, and none in the House. Among the handful of Democrats who opposed the bill were Rep. Tom Sullivan of Centennial and Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora, both of whom lost children in fatal shootings.
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