Colorado’s new informed-consent bill celebrated as tool to fight racial profiling

DENVER– On Monday lawmakers and civil rights activists celebrated Governor Bill Ritter signing into law the so-called informed consent bill, which requires police to tell people they have a right to refuse to be searched during interaction with authorities. Although the bill drew rare bipartisan support in the fractious legislature this session, supporters were concerned that Ritter, a long-time tough District Attorney loath to dilute law enforcement power, might veto the bill. He didn’t, which was cause for celebration.

Members of the Informed Consent Search Coalition and sponsors of the law, HB 1201, Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver and Rep. Karen Middleton of Aurora, said that Colorado should be proud of the fact that it now has some of the strongest 4th Amendment right protections in the country against illegal searches. They said the state is another step closer to reducing racial profiling.

“While some states are looking to institutionalize racial profiling, Colorado I think has taken a proactive stance that racial profiling is wrong and that is the passage of HB 1201 for us,” said Carlos Valverde, co-executive director of the Colorado Progressive Coalition.

Groups backing the bill also included the ACLU of Colorado, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, Colorao Immigrants Rights Coalition, Colorado Latino Forum, and the Colorado Public Defenders.

Lawmakers praised Art Way, civil rights organizer for the Colorado Progressive Coalition, for his work in rallying support for the bill.

The bill requires officers to inform drivers of their right to refuse search requests but also extends the protection to pedestrians, making Colorado the only state in the country to do so. The bill also requires that judges consider whether or not an officer informed a civilian of their rights when reviewing the legitimacy of the arrest and determining the admissibility of evidence.

“I see this as a first step. I think we should monitor this process and what comes next,” said Rep. Middleton.

She told the Colorado Independent that she planned to work to adopt a more rigorous police training program around “the decisions made when you ask for a consent search” and also to stiffen the “consequences if police officers are not employing best practices.”

Steadman explained that the bill passed through the Senate unanimously because of its focus on constitutional rights.

“When you start talking about civil liberties and 4th Amendment protections, you find that there is a lot of consensus in this building.”

He said that police officers will sometimes use their discretion inappropriately by intimidating individuals into surrendering their rights. We have to protect against that happening, he said. “That idea really swept through the Senate.”

“For me this is very much a pro-civil liberties, pro-education and also pro-community policing piece of legislation.”

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