State Rep. Claire Levy this week told The Colorado Independent she is writing a bill to eliminate the death penalty in Colorado. Levy, D-Boulder, said she will introduce the bill if she is satisfied it will have a strong chance of passing.
She said the death penalty is a failed policy that has “outlived its time. It is used so rarely in Colorado that it is not really a tool that either prosecutors or juries think is necessary.”
She said that nationally there have been numerous well-publicized cases of people on death row being exonerated and that the possibility of Colorado executing an innocent person is troubling to her. “There is a real high chance of executing someone who is innocent, and we can’t take that chance,” she said.
Moreover, Levy said by phone that prosecutors in Colorado seek the death penalty so rarely as to make it arbitrary. “In Colorado, Arapahoe County seems to be the only county that feels the death penalty is an appropriate penalty. The way we do it in Colorado is fundamentally broken,” she said. “Life without parole is a far more civilized penalty,” she said.
Currently there are three men on Colorado’s death row all of whom were tried in 18th Judicial District, which includes Arapahoe County.
The staff of 18th Judicial District Attorney Carol Chambers did not return a call seeking comment; neither did incoming 18th District Attorney George Brauchler.
Asked whether she had spoken to Gov. John Hickenlooper about the bill, she said she hadn’t, but added, “I would not be bringing the bill if I didn’t think he would sign it.”
A spokesman for the governor said by email that Hickenlooper would probably have no comment until he has seen the bill.
Levy said she is will introduce the bill if she thinks it is likely to pass. “I need to see that there is a good chance it would pass before I will introduce it,” she said.
She said she wants to speak with a lot of the newly elected legislators before she makes a final decision on introducing the bill. She said she didn’t know who might sponsor the bill in the Senate.
Levy said she does not think the death penalty is a deterrent to crime and said she finds the idea that some crimes are so heinous that only the death penalty is an appropriate penalty to be misguided. “That assumes that the primary purpose of the criminal justice system is retribution, but in fact the primary purposes are public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation, all of which are better served by lengthy prison sentences.”
She said the bill will not affect people already on death row. “[P]robably for logistical reasons we would apply it to offenses committed after the effective date but no final decision other than that it will not retroactively commute a sentence,” Levy said by email.
While a bill to abolish the death penalty probably won’t play out precisely on party lines, it is likely to tilt that way.
“I would not support abolishing the death penalty,” Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, told the Independent this week.
“I do feel it is a deterrent,” he said. DelGrosso said that without a death penalty, someone serving a life-without-parole sentence “would have nothing to lose, no incentive” not to kill other prisoners or prison staff. “I think there are certain circumstances where it is appropriate to use the death penalty,” he said by phone.
Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, told The Independent that while he normally does not take a position on a bill before he has read it, he is likely to support Levy’s bill.
“Conceptually, I would support an effort to abolish the death penalty in Colorado,” he said by phone.
“To me, it is a moral issue. As a person of faith and conscience, I think it is wrong,” Kefalas said.
He also said he thinks the death penalty is bad policy. “Repealing the death penalty would be in line with the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.”
Image of Rep. Levy courtesy of Rep. Levy.