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Alamosa News | Alamosa Municipal Court at center of ACLU report on ‘justice derailment’

ALAMOUSA – Colorado’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a report Thursday outlining concerns about more than 200 Colorado municipal courts, primarily Alamosa Municipal Court and Municipal Judge Daniel Powell.

In a statement released Thursday, the ACLU said: “One court in particular – the Alamosa Municipal Court – is systematically violating the constitutional rights of its mainly impoverished defendants.”

“Justice Derailed: A case study of abuses and unconstitutional practices in Colorado city courts” is based on a multi-year ACLU investigation that examined state law as well as transcripts of local court proceedings. In addition, the report highlighted several individual cases handled by Judge Powell in Alamosa City Court.

Powell has served as a municipal judge in Alamosa since January 1, 2010 and sits under a contract with the city, reviewed annually by the Alamosa City Council.

The report, which features Alamosa Station with the headline “Justice Derailed,” focuses almost entirely on Alamosa Municipal Court and Judge Powell, who is also a municipal judge in Monte Vista, where the report states “even judge even bad practices. “

The report states: “While some Colorado municipal judges are actively working to improve the quality and fairness of their courts, others run their courtrooms as a personal fiefdom, trampling on the rights of defendants – especially those who live in poverty – with impunity.

Colorado Policy Advisor Rebecca Wallace’s ACLU said, “Colorado municipal courts primarily deal with our state’s lower level offenses, many of which are intimately linked to poverty and substance abuse. These courts are often individuals’ first contact with the criminal justice system. Yet they operate without significant oversight, in the shadow of state law and the Constitution. This lack of oversight can and does pave the way for serious violations of civil liberties. “

According to Justice Derailed, the Alamosa City Court headed by Judge Powell, “differs from Colorado City Courts in the frequency and severity of constitutional abuses, the lack of respect for those appearing in court, the a stark difference in treatment between poor defendants and those with means, and a sense of fundamental injustice that permeates many legal proceedings.

Using transcripts, courtroom audio and case summaries, the report provided examples of Judge Powell “issuing unnecessary arrest warrants, allowing defendants to languish in jail for days on end. , even weeks for minor offenses, denying the assistance of a lawyer to indigent defendants, imposing very heavy fines. disproportionate to the crime, and using prison and the threat of prison to collect money from defendants who cannot afford to pay, in violation of state law.

“Justice Powell operates a two-tier system in which the accused are punished for their poverty. Those who have the means may only appear once in court and pay off their debt, while those who lack the financial resources face a cruel form of injustice, ”said ACLU of Colorado Research and Policy. Associate Becca Curry, co-author of the report. “We have seen cases where a person received a simple traffic violation or was accused of shoplifting for less than two dollars worth of food, and simply because they could not pay their debt. judicial, she was trapped for years in a cycle of debt and incarceration. “

The report’s authors highlighted Alamosa’s level of poverty, with 35% of the population falling below the poverty line, as well as the opioid crisis.

“Rather than using his position to connect addicts to services, Judge Powell defames and blames addicts and often issues arrest warrants against people he knows cannot attend court proceedings because ‘they participate in voluntary detoxification programs,’ the statement said.

The report also attributes the overcrowding of Alamosa County Jail to the “Alamosa Municipal Court’s practice of handing down long sentences for minor offenses.” In 2016, 90% of the 475 arrest warrants issued by the court were for low-intensity non-violent offenses, according to the report.

“While Alamosa provides a comprehensive display of everything that can go wrong when a local court has too much power and too little accountability, these abuses are present in many municipal courts across the state,” Wallace said. “The Colorado legislature and Supreme Court must take action to ensure that all of our municipal courts are transparent, accountable and fair. “

“Justice Derailed” provided a set of recommendations to the Alamosa Municipal Court to bring its court into compliance with constitutional standards and state law, as well as recommendations for the state legislature to establish requirements. reporting, urge municipalities to establish an independent public defender system, establish written criteria for assessing ability to pay, require courts to individualize sentences based on the crime and the ability to pay ‘accused, and create a statewide task force to study municipal court practices and make other recommendations to address injustices in municipal courts.

To see the full report here.

City response
Although phone and email messages to Judge Powell were not answered on Thursday, Alamosa City manager Heather Brooks responded with the following statements:

“The city only received the report this morning, so this was our first opportunity to see it. Really, at this point we are limited in the comments we can offer because of this. We remain committed to all of them. Federal, State, and Local Laws If there is any reference to this contrary to this, we take it very, very seriously.

“We fully intend to review this report, review the data in it, review our reports and the data available to us, evaluate them and deal with them with City Council in a very open manner. and transparent. There isn’t a lot of feedback we can offer because we haven’t had a chance to really look at the report and we don’t want to go down a road without knowing what’s in it. We want to be objective and fair.

Caption: In July 2014, the Mayor of Monte Vista, Debbie Garcia, was sworn in to Daniel Powell as the new municipal judge of Monte Vista. Photo file.

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