Boulder County ACLU pushes penalty reductions for minor legal violations

The Boulder City Council is considering a proposal to reduce penalties for sixty minor legal violations such as littering and throwing rocks. Under ordinance 7831, first and second time offenders would no longer face jail time, though their rights to a trial by jury would be changed to a single judge presiding. The Boulder County chapter of the ACLU supports the movement toward de-incarceration but wonders: Why stop at sixty?

Last week, the local chapter sent a statement to the Boulder City Council asking its members to consider expanding the list of charges that would face official penalty reductions. At the moment, proposal 7831's original list of charges focuses largely on park and property issues, including bringing a glass bottle to a local park, erecting a tent, owning a noisy cat and neglecting to clear weeds on a property.

The majority of charges selected for inclusion in the current proposal face a maximum penalty of up to ninety days in jail and a $1,000 fine. And according to the Colorado constitution, people subject to a fine of $500 or greater have a right to trial by jury.

The merits of the new ordinance, as outlined in the plan presented to Boulder City Council, are both social and financial. Because city attorneys argue that the snow removal fines and other minor violations included in the plan pose no major threat to the county, the new tiered punishment system for first, second and third time offenders would bring the penalties closer to the realities. And without the required option of bringing every case before a jury, the resources allotted to the case would noticeably decrease.

But the Boulder County ACLU is not satisfied with the current proposal's short list of lowest-level offenses, and it hopes to influence the City Council to expand the benefits to a larger list of charges. According to the letter chairman Judd Golden sent to City Council members, its members would like to amp up the list and add the following violations to the penalty reduction roster in ordinance 7831:

5-3-5 Obstructing Public Streets, Places, or Buildings.

5-3-6 Use of Fighting Words.

5-3-10 Harassment Near Health Care Facility

5-3-12 Begging in Certain Places Prohibited.

5-4-2 Damaging Public Property.

5-4-5 Trespass on Public Buildings.

5-4-6 Trespass on Public Property.

5-4-10 Fires on Public Property.

5-4-11 Polluting Streams.

5-4-14 Graffiti Prohibited.

5-5-1 Obstructing Government Operations.

5-5-12 Duty to Report Fires.

5-5-15 Breaking Into Animal Pound.

5-5-17 Crossing Police Line.

5-5-18 Suspension of Facility Privileges.

5-5-19 False Application Prohibited.

5-6-6 Fireworks.

5-6-7 Public Urination.

5-6-11 Inhaling Toxic Vapors.

5-6-12 Fraudulent Identification Documents Prohibited.

6-1-23 Disposition of Dead Animals.

6-2-5 Growth of Weeds or Brush as Nuisance Prohibited.

6-4-8 Restrictions on Sale and Display of Tobacco Products.

6-14-13 Medical marijuana businesses - 27 specific "prohibited acts."

8-2-4 Removal of Landmarks Prohibited.

8-2-7 Duty to Maintain Ditches, Drainage Ponds, and Streets.

8-2-9 Bridges Over Ditches and Drains.

8-2-11 Duty to Maintain Walkway Around Obstructed Portions of Sidewalks.

8-3-7 Regulation of Horses and Livestock.

8-3-10 Hitting Golf Balls Prohibited.

8-3-14 Permits for Organized Events.

8-3-15 Regulation of Boulder Reservoir and Coot Lake. (boating and related violations)

8-3-16 Boulder Reservoir Boat Permits Required.

8-5-3 Permit Required for Work in the Public Right-of-Way and Public Easements.

8-5-8 Public Safety and Nuisance.

After presenting the list to City Council on February 7, Golden says reactions to the proposed adjustments have been open-minded. He, an attorney for the city and a member of the council have plans to meet and discuss the issue next week.

"The reaction of the council was that the ACLU had made some pretty good points, and the city attorney did admit that the original list is just a first step," Golden says. "We at the Boulder County ACLU will continue to be a squeaky wheel on this until the field is leveled."

Read the ACLU's letter in its entirety:

Boulder County ACLU Penalty Reduction Letter

More from our Politics archive: "Occupy Boulder: Evidence suppressed after police enter tents without warrant."

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