Rights activists looking to pressure Ritter on informed-consent search bill

Civil rights activists are turning up pressure on Gov. Bill Ritter to sign legislation this week that would force police to inform citizens of their right to deny police searches.

The Colorado Progressive Coalition’s Art Way, is asking Colorado voters to call Ritter and declare their support for HB 1201, sponsored by rep. Karen Middleton and Sen. Pat Steadman. In this heated and deeply partisan legislative session, the bill is notable for drawing Republican supporters, including Colorado Springs Senator Dave Schultheis, who said authorities riding roughshod over citizen rights is a number one complaint he gets from his constituents. The law would not only require police officers to tell Coloradans they have the right to refuse searches but also requires judges to consider whether or not police officers informed citizens of their rights against searches when deciding what evidence is admissable to court.

The Fourth Amendment right to refuse searches has eroded over the course of decades. Officers can search and seize property with “probable cause,” a fungible concept that authorities have to support in court should they find anything illegal in the course of their searches and seizures. Way agrees with the bill’s sponsors that new restrictions are needed to prevent police intimidation that often centers on minority groups and exacerbates community-police tensions.

“Voluntary consent searches are one area where lack of accountability and transparency regarding law enforcement practices unite resulting in daily violations of individual rights,” Way said. “People who are asked for consent to a search are often unaware of the right to refuse, scared to refuse, ignored and / or intimidated into consenting.”

Way called baseless searches the “primary cause for continuing animosity between certain communities and law enforcement due to criminal investigations based on an officer’s hunch… the misplaced desire to be ‘pro-active’ or flat-out abuse power.”

“HB 1201 is a reminder to heed our civil liberties that we often brag about internationally but arbitrarily provide domestically,” Way told the Colorado Independent, “I urge one-time D.A. [Ritter] to sign the bill into law and listen to the people.”

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