Biting the Bullet

Hopelessly backlogged…The whole system collapses… Justice is served…

These are the refrains of stories that have appeared over the past weeks, detailing Colorado’s clogged up court systems. Beginning Sunday, the Colorado Springs Gazette embarked on a three-day series about life and challenges inside a district courtroom. “If every case went to trial, the courts would be hopelessly backlogged,” the Gazette noted.

For whatever reason, the story avoided mention of the current political angle – that the power-backed 527 Trailhead Group is airing ads attacking Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter’s plea bargaining record and prosecution rate while serving as Denver District Attorney. But today the Denver Post weighed in on the inaccurate and misleading ads, comparing Ritter’s records with John Suthers, the Republican who is running for Attorney General.

For weeks, Republican nominee Bob Beauprez and the Trailhead Group – a committee backed by big-money Republicans – have been claiming Ritter let too many criminals avoid punishment.

At the same time, Trailhead has begun running ads touting the experience of Republican Attorney General John Suthers when he was district attorney of El Paso and Teller counties.

But records obtained from those counties indicate Suthers – at least during the final three years of his tenure – sent fewer felons to prison than Ritter.

On Aug. 27 Colorado Confidential highlighted the fact that Ritter’s conviction rate was actually higher than that of the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s office – at least during the time that Suthers’ replacement was in office. Last month the Denver Post reported that Department of Justice records show the Denver DA’s conviction rate in 2001 was 95 percent, compared to 82 percent in the 4th Judicial District. In 2001, the DA was Jeanne Smith, who was elected to replace John Suthers after he was term-limited from office; Smith currently serves as Suthers’ second in command in the Attorney General’s office.

And, the current DA, Republican John Newsome, has also underscored the importance of plea bargaining. “If you don’t have the ability to plea bargain, the whole system collapses,” Newsome said.  “We handled 50,000 cases in this office last year and if we didn’t have plea bargaining there wouldn’t be any cop on the street, there would be no courts, all the judges would be doing nothing but criminal cases – there’s simply not enough physical space, time or hours in the day or weeks in the year. Physically you couldn’t do it.”

But none of that seems to impress several Gazette readers, who have posted online responses to the daily’s three-part series. One poster, identified only as “DW” offered his own brand of justice – including offering to personally supply the bullet.

It may sound cruel but it’s time to get serious. Start giving the death penalty, and carry it out, no more luxurys [sic] in jail, they live better than a lot of people I know, start charging the families for food, clothes and shelter. It’s not supposed to be a country club or hotel. Tell all these special interest groups to go home, this may piss of [sic] the minorities. I’d put every single one of the prison population out working to clean up the city, low risk population only. High risk and certain offenders, I’ll pay for the bullet. Quit playing games. Get rid of the lawyers. Bring back the fear of the death penalty and do not wait for years, a month is long enough.