Colorado Springs has far and away the largest number of domestic violence cases and protection orders issued every year in Colorado. According to the state court administrator in FY 2008 the 4 th Judicial District (includes Colorado Springs) had 3,137 DV cases and issued 3,122 protection orders. The closest contender in injustice was the 18 th Judicial District (includes Aurora) which had 2,205 DV cases and issued 2,305 protection orders in 2008. But the 18 th JD has nearly 250,000 (40%) more residents than the 4th JD.
Confounding the injustice is the fact that Colorado Springs has five major military bases surrounding it, which is unique, as well as a huge veteran population. Many thousands of both the active-duty military and discharged veterans here have seen multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Vietnam, Korea, and WW II before the current conflicts. Consequently PTSD and TBI are rampant problems in the community. The response of civilian authorities to these disabilities is generally to arrest the veterans for domestic violence, which the appalling demographics clearly demonstrate, and attorney Michael Salkind's essay eloquently describes.
I have known Michael Salkind, Esq., for a decade since we were both on the board of the local chapter of the ACLU. As most of you know the ACLU has completely ignored these injustices both locally and nationally and Salkind and I left the chapter at about the same time.
Salkind has been on our list of recommended attorneys since the Equal Justice Foundation was incorporated and is the local expert on 2nd Amendment legal issues. I'm afraid that after this essay I may have to place him on our growing list of blackguard attorneys who have been disbarred for daring to speak out against injustice, e.g. see Linda Kennedy's Holodeck Law - Litigation Vortex. But his courage is undeniable.
An edited version of this was published in the September 17, 2009 edition of the Colorado Springs Independent
Prior to a strengthening of the Colorado DV laws which began in 1994, sometimes DV cases were treated as if they were not crimes; cases of real abuse were shrugged off as being the business of a man and woman, in their homes, and not the courts. Abusers received the message that it was okay to abuse. Some partners, mostly women, found themselves caught in a terror-filled situation, dominated and hurt in a cycle of domestic violence.
In order to address perceived gaps, laws were passed that remove discretion from all parties, law enforcement to prosecutors to sentencing judges. Suspected perpetrators must be arrested, though for the equivalent non-DV misdemeanor charges police merely issue a summons. No one may bond out until the next day, until after a judicial advisement, in contrast to serious felony cases in which the arrestee may bond out almost immediately. The accused must appear in front of a judge the next day. The absurdity is shown in that those arrested on Friday and Saturday do not have to wait to see a judge they may simply bond the next day. The 24-hour waiting period is disingenuous; a video advisement can easily be provided without the overnight wait. Many first-time offenders appear in front of the judge the next day, handcuffed behind their back, wearing a party-issue jumpsuit, in an exhausted and scared state, whereupon they are descended upon by young assistant district attorneys, with sharp teeth, who strongly imply that if a plea bargain is not immediately accepted, much worse is in store. (I added the part about the sharp teeth; some have normal teeth.) This is known as Fast Track. Many people take deals and suddenly have to deal with grave consequences which are not mentioned or explained during the Fast Track feeding frenzy. For example, those in the military suddenly lose their careers because they cannot then legally possess firearms. This is called a collateral consequence, as if it is of no consequence, and the court is not responsible for relaying this information. Words, such as "violence," were redefined to be much broader than that which plain English had easily encompassed for centuries. Those prosecuted, no matter whether the case results in conviction, must complete at least a 36-week DV re-education class, which is expensive, time-consuming, inflexible and, most feel, entirely ineffective. A Frankenstein monster was given life; the DV system tries to prevent the infection of minor cuts through amputation.
Defendants are charged when they should not be, with charges far more serious than what has occurred, and police must arrest. Effectively, there is little distinction between a man who rips his girlfriend's shirt during an isolated disagreement, and a woman who regularly beats her husband leaving welts and bruises. The prosecution's hands are politically tied, and case-by-case approaches are barred. There is a one-size-fits-all approach dictated by inflexible statutes and the way they were interpreted, when first implemented, by our local prosecution and courts. Recent local attempts to make the system more flexible have been prevented by the Domestic Violence Offender Management Board, an ominous Star Chamber located north of Castle Rock, which successfully sued El Paso County, shutting down an attempt to allow variance to the prosecution of these cases and try to fit the options to the perpetrator.
The only good news for those accused is that the lack of reasonable options has made it impossible for the prosecution to effectively try more than a handful of cases. The courts can only accommodate so many trials, or risk legal coagulation, and thus many cases simply go away. Those who survive the Fast Track gauntlet and set the case for trial are very likely to not go to trial. The people whom common sense would dictate need to be stopped, the genuine abusers, are just as likely to skate free as anyone, winning a bureaucratic lottery. Which cases go to trial is often determined by whether or not the "victim" appears for trial; the victim's absence makes most cases untriable.
The few people successfully prosecuted suffer many draconian direct and so-called collateral consequences. A class of criminals now lives among us, those blind-sided by the giant DV net people who now have criminal records which greatly limit so many future options. Kafka could not have envisioned a more effective bureaucratic Chinese finger trap. I have been visited by many people with buyer's remorse, sorry that they accepted a plea bargain at Fast Track, explaining to me that they felt they had no choice. However, I can do nothing for them attempts to point out the Constitutional violations of Fast Track have gone unheeded. Technically, the court has provided all the advisement to which one is entitled by law, and the fact that, to the person, it was felt that the process was confusing and they were bum-rushed through it is not of sufficient concern.
The state of the city can and would be vastly improved if, In the absence of being allowed to offer reasonable dispositions, the courts and prosecution went all renegade and refused to be restrained by the legislative bonds. The police, the prosecution and the courts should work together to triage the cases, and dismiss those cases deemed less severe. If, in response, Colorado wants to become reasonable, to devise punishments that, in fact, fit the crime, then we will agree to going back to following their laws.
Michael Salkind has been practicing criminal defense in Colorado Springs since 1994. He drums, pets dogs, and is a former contributor to the Independent. He is opinionated to the point of being grating.