Habitual criminal policy: Who's going away for a long, long time?

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This week's cover story, "Welcome to Arapahell," examines Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers's frequent filing of habitual criminal charges against repeat offenders, which can triple or quadruple the length of a prison sentence. While other district attorneys use the habitual criminal charge sparingly, reserving it for their most violent or prolific felons, Chambers filed 623 habitual cases during 2010 and the first half of 2011 -- and more than three-fourths of the time, the underlying charge that triggered the habitual case was a nonviolent one.

Here's a more detailed breakout of the type of cases in which prosecutors in the 18th Judicial District (Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties) sought to "bitch" the defendant:

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While the label "habitual criminal" conjures up images of brutal, career felons, nonviolent habitual cases outnumber violent ones in Arapahoe by better than a four-to-one margin.

More than half are facing the bitch count because of drug or theft charges or because they violated the terms of their community corrections placement. (The "other" category includes the felony stalking charge Dennis Pauls faced that is followed in this week's feature.) True, some of those "nonviolent" repeat offenders may also have past convictions for violent crimes; yet in Arapahoe County, two-thirds of all "escape" cases filed against people who abscond from halfway houses or parole supervision end up in habitual filings, and you can't say the same thing for violent offenders.

Ironically, the more violent the crime, the less likely the bitch count will be pursued, since there are a number of aggravating factors already sufficient to insure that the offender is going to get a long sentence.

When someone is already going to prison for life for murder, prosecutors rarely bother with the habitual charge.

As noted in the article, only a handful of habitual cases actually go to trial in the 18th; 95 percent of the time, the habitual charge is dismissed after the defendant agrees to plead guilty and accept a sentence that is often much longer than he or she would receive for the same offense in another county.

For a bit of history of the controversies surrounding Carol Chambers and her habitual criminal policy, check out our 2007 feature "The Punisher."

Follow Alan Prendergast on Twitter @alanprend

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8 comments
Jules
Jules

Just angry because I had a case that got dismissed in Arapahoe County. A domestic violence case with a restraining order. With how strict they seem to be I would have hoped for better. I feel absolutely unprotected by the law after this happened. It was against an ex and after this he had the guts to post on his blog "Everyove loves a Russian girl accept Arapahoe county DA" Good choice Arapahoe County. Way to protect a woman from a monster.

Kim Roth
Kim Roth

I have to say that this article made me very angry, as a taxpayer this article should make us all angry.  Growing up I heard of stories of innocent fun, tee peeing houses, egging, soaping, turning over out houses and tipping cows. Men handled disputes with dialog, and if that failed, their fists. Today most of those things can get you some type of charge including felonies. Our prisons are over populated costing the taxpayers in 2010 approximately 35,000 dollars per year per inmate.  In 2009 the Denver post reported that the majority of people going to prison were due to minor parole infractions, not because of new charges. In October 2009 an article came out in the Denver Post that said that 10 felons were to be set free under Colorado early release initiative.  Did they release people that were back in, on minor infractions of their parole? No, of course not, they released people that should have finished their time.  Why, my guess is, to play on the hearts of the taxpayers, so they could get more money for prisons. Carol Chambers is not working for the people.  People are not innocent until proven guilty.  Much like Hitler, who convinced the masses that a certain group of people needed to be removed, and killed them in groves, Carol Chambers is trying to throw people away on ridiculous charges.  Most of these people that have had felonies have served their time and have the right to try to make a new start for themselves without being pegged as a habitual offender. Did you know that if you are at a concert, get in a mosh pit in Arapahoe County, and someone gets hurt, (they are in the pit on their own accord) and any of those people have any felonies, Carol Chambers and her staff will do their very best to put you away for 48 years, as a habitual offender.  That’s a whooping 1,540,000 dollars, without inflation for the duration of that sentence.  That makes me mad.   

YankeeRam
YankeeRam

Obviously the Westword's position is that felons should be out on the streets. I am no fan of Chambers, there are very few people that like her abrasive manner...but your slant is wrong.

From a guy in law enforcement many of these not violent crimes you speak of are hardly that. Why does someone carry a gun? What does one do when they walk away from a halfway house? Someone who burglarizes home and steals guns...hmmmm. These non violent crimes are non-violent because of chance...because the victim is not home, because the felon does not see someone they want to shoot.

Another consideration is how many crimes do these felons commit that are not caught for? One would assume every crime they commit they are caught red handed. Not the case. If you have three felonies on your record, you are a problem for society and deserve to spend more time in jail....lock them up and throw away the key...having them out in society only creates more victims.

Carol supporter
Carol supporter

It's obvious these criminals have not learned anything from their prior behaviors and punishments.  I don't see an issue with this.  Maybe the other District Attorneys in Colorado should follow suit.

UrbanSprawler
UrbanSprawler

Your focus is on the wrong branch of government.

But, of course, a story about legislators passing a law then ignoring its effects isn't as sexy as a hell-bent, gunslingin' DA from the harshest County in Colorado putting notches on her belt while a vengeance-seeking public cheers it on.

That's what you get when you elect morons to the Statehouse.

Here's a tip; avoid Arapahoe County.  Hell, I haven't been there or spent a dime there in years.  No reason to.  There's nothing necessary or special about it.

Bob Smith
Bob Smith

So, Carol Chambers is an unrepentant prosecutorial hardass . No news there.

Slapping the bitch count on everyone and anyone you can is a good strategy for somebody like that, to make the plea bargains harsher if nothing else. Arapahoe County is fine with this, they elect her, guess they can afford the prisons.

Still - trying to lock up 17 habitual traffic offenders forever should strain anyone's credulity, and lowers respect for the law. Perhaps as much as Chambers does herself.

christinealling
christinealling

@Carol supporter It's frightening that you jump to that conclusion without knowing specifics and facts.  It's people like you that allow corruption to remain and grow in this state.  Just close your eyes and assume the government is honest.

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