The District Attorney (DA) is arguably the most influential position in the criminal justice system. In Colorado, the District Attorney is an elected office and holds decision-making authority and responsibility. Although this is an elected office, often too little information is known about DA candidates or decisions s/he makes once elected.
In 2016, CCJRC launched the KNOW YOUR DA campaign to keep voters educated about DA candidates around the state. The campaign will continue beyond the election cycle to promote more community engagement to improve transparency, accountability, and community relations with elected District Attorneys. A key component of the campaign is the development of the District Attorney Candidate Voter Guide ⎼ developed by CCJRC and sent to candidates in the 1st Judicial District (Jefferson and Gilpin) and the 2nd Judicial District (Denver).
Colorado has 22 Judicial Districts that are each represented by an elected District Attorney. Unfortunately, only 7 of those races are contested this November. Even in District Attorney races where there are multiple candidates to choose from, oftentimes voters know so little about the candidates that they skip voting in that race.
To help inform voters, Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC) developed a District Attorney Voter Guide based on responses from both District Attorney candidates in the 1st Judicial District, Jake Lilly (D) and Pete Weir (R). Candidates were asked a series of written questions on issues regarding community health and safety, racial disparities within the criminal justice system, addiction and mental illness, undocumented immigrants, plea bargaining, transparency, and improvement of trust within communities.
Jake Lilly(D), addressed effective ways to advance community health and safety by talking about how “A District Attorney must have enough judgment to distinguish between those who are truly violent and cannot be rehabilitated and those that made mistakes or are suffering from addiction of mental health issues.” Pete Weir (R) addressed practical ways to advance community health and safety by speaking about how, “Aggressive prosecution is part of the answer, but it must be combined with our progressive programs and problem-solving courts that help prevent crime and victimization.” Both candidates are highly aware that cases are all on an individual basis, and everyone has different needs within our judicial system whether it be punishment or help through one of their programs to help people overcome obstacles of addiction and mental illness.
Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC) developed a similar Voter Guide based on responses from the two candidates running for DA in Denver, Beth McCann (D) and Helen Morgan (I).
Both candidates acknowledge that there are too many people incarcerated in Colorado, that racial disparity exists throughout the criminal justice system and offered specifics about their approaches to addressing these issues, if elected.
Another issue facing our judicial system is the lack of transparency between District Attorneys and the public especially when it comes to the decision-making process. Candidates were asked what each would do to improve transparency within the DAs office. Beth McCann (D), replied, “As the next Denver District Attorney, I will continue to meet with neighborhood groups, and I will require the deputy district attorneys to attend neighborhood association meetings so that we can establish and build working relationships within the communities we are serving.” Helen Morgan (I), replied, “As District Attorney, I will publish an annual report, available online and in print, similar to the report currently prepared and distributed by the Independent Monitor.” Both candidates recognize the importance of transparency and if elected both wish to facilitate necessary information to the public about their decision-making process.
Both contested DA races in Colorado are extremely competitive this election year. We have attached the full questionnaires for both the 1st and 2nd Judicial Districts and hope the KNOW YOUR DA campaign continues to keep voters educated about DA candidates around the state.