Michelle Reynolds was held in jail for 15 days, six hours and 23 minutes before she was able to see a judge. She was arrested on Aug. 23, 2019, in Mesa County after being pulled over for speeding while rushing to get to her niece’s first high school volleyball game.
“The arresting officer was extremely vague in explaining to me why I was being arrested, other than saying it was out of Boulder County,” Reynolds said in a written statement that was read to Colorado lawmakers during a bill hearing on May 25.
When Reynolds was finally able to see a judge, she was released on a personal recognizance bond. A few weeks later, her case was dismissed. “I lost my hospice clients while in jail and I have not been able to recover my previous income level,” she said. “I still have nightmares that I am stuck in a room and I cannot get out.”
A bill that’s nearing the finish line at the Colorado Legislature seeks to ensure that bond hearings are set within 48 hours of someone being arrested. House Bill 21-1280 also requires people to be released from custody within six hours after bond is set, to receive clear notice of rights regarding bond payment and release procedures, and reports to ensure compliance with the law. Each judicial district will also need to establish a way to pay bond online by Jan. 1, 2022.
The legislation, sponsored by Reps. Steven Woodrow and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and Sens. Pete Lee and Robert Rodriguez, passed unanimously with bipartisan support out of the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on May 25. The bill, which would take effect on April 1, 2022, now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“Far too many Coloradans are being kept behind bars before ever being convicted of a crime — robbing them of their families, jeopardizing their employment, and compromising their emotional and physical wellbeing,” said Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat. “This bill affirms the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ principle our nation was founded on by improving the bail process so that it is more timely, efficient, and just.”
Similar bills to address the timeliness of bond hearings have been introduced in previous years. Lee told lawmakers that in the past, the main objection to the legislation has been from smaller jurisdictions that didn’t have enough district attorneys or resources to cover bond hearings on the weekends if a person was arrested on a Thursday or Friday.
The bill would create a grant program to assist smaller district attorney offices in covering the costs associated with the bond hearings.
“The way that the stakeholders have worked this out is to provide for two statewide bond hearing officers, paid for by the state — one for the eastern slope and one for the western districts, appointed by the chief justice to conduct bond hearings on weekends and holidays,” Lee told lawmakers. The hearings can be held by phone or video.
Despite the additional assistance for smaller DA offices, the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council remains opposed to the bill, according to the secretary of state’s lobbyist website.