When Michelle Reynolds was visiting the Western Slope two years ago to attend a niece’s volleyball game, she could not have imagined she’d spend the next 16 days in jail.
Outside of Grand Junction, she was stopped for speeding, and the officer found an open warrant for her arrest in Boulder, a warrant she didn’t even know about. The officer took her to the Mesa County Jail to await a transfer to Boulder.
“My first four days (in jail) were horrific. I was physically assaulted and emotionally traumatized by another inmate,” Reynolds told state lawmakers Wednesday with her voice breaking.
She said the emotional strain of her time in jail continues to haunt her, forcing her to give up her work as a home hospice provider.
Reynolds was at the state Capitol to testify in favor of a bill that would mandate everyone arrested appear before a judge to set bond within 48 hours of being taken into custody.
Three counties — Denver, Jefferson, and Weld — already hold bond hearings on weekends, but for the rest of the state, someone who is taken to jail on a Friday will most likely still be there on Monday morning. For someone arrested on a warrant out of another county, the wait might be even longer.
This is the third time in recent years that Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill meant to address that delay. This year’s version aims to make it easier for smaller, rural jurisdictions by creating a new position of statewide “bond hearing officer,” an officer of the court who could conduct weekend hearings virtually for people arrested in any county in the state.
But across the state, many district attorneys oppose the bill, warning that unless lawmakers provide funding to hire extra staff it would force their attorneys and victims advocates to work more hours without any more pay.
“In effect it would add unpaid overtime and weekend work to our existing positions,” said District Attorney Matt Karzen, whose area covers Grand, Routt, and Moffatt counties. “So as good an idea as I think this is, and as supportive as I am on a policy level, the reality is, without funding, this would do more harm than good.”
Karzen and other DAs who testified against the bill estimated it would cost around $20,000 to $25,000 more for each of their offices to ensure that arrestees could get a virtual hearing on a weekend. Some lawmakers who support the bill questioned that premise though, noting that weekend hearings wouldn’t actually increase the total number of cases heard in a judicial district, just shift when some of the work gets done.
Some opponents also argued that virtual weekend hearings would disenfranchise crime victims, especially those who lack the technology or a strong internet connection to participate in a virtual hearing.
“Many of these victims, unfortunately, are not very well off ... (and) their chance to have justice done for them, for them to be treated fairly and justly in cases in which they are offended against, often comes down to being able to appear in person in court and address a judge,” said Travis Sides, District Attorney for seven counties in northeastern Colorado.
However, backers of the bill argued that by having weekend hearings in some large metro counties and not in rural areas, Colorado’s system of justice treats people unequally.
“The arbitrariness of where you’re arrested, where you happen to be accused of a crime, shouldn’t be the determining factor in your access to justice in the state. If you happen to be accused in Weld or Jefferson County, you’re going to see a judge. We want that for folks in your lovely more rural jurisdictions as well,” said Elizabeth Epps, founder of the Colorado Freedom Fund, which pays bail for people otherwise unable to afford it.
After hours of testimony, the bill passed out of its first committee on a party-line vote and headed to the House Appropriations Committee.