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Crimes Involving at Risk Adults and At Risk Juveniles Are Too Broad

Laws in our state should be logical. We don't send someone to prison or jail based on emotion alone. Yet in Colorado, our legislature has passed such a broad law that common sense must have been abandoned in its passage. Seeking to please special interest groups, Colorado's lawmakers have once again embarrassed themselves. Our state's At Risk Adult / At Risk Juvenile laws, at C.R.S. 18-6.5-103, are the subject of this irresponsible lawmaking.

Here is the Problem with At Risk Laws

"Disability" generally means that someone is not as equipped as the majority of Colorado citizens to protect themselves from others, either physically or mentally. I applaud any effort to protect people with disabilities from being taken advantage of by others. But what if the disability has nothing to do with the crime's completion? Consider this: imagine a woman with a prosthetic leg who is in a crowd in downtown Denver and has her wallet snatched from her purse. Her male friend loses his wallet in a similar way. Each wallet contains cash and credit cards. If the thief is caught trying to use a credit card and both wallets are recovered on him by police, should he be punished more severely for taking the woman's wallet?

Under Colorado's At Risk Adult law (similar to At Risk Elder), the thief will be punished more severely for taking the woman's wallet because she is missing a foot. The crime charged would be theft. For the woman, the thief would be charged with At Risk Adult Theft, and if the value of the wallet and its contents was less than $500, he would be charged with a class 5 felony; if the value was over $500, he would be charged with a class 3 felony. Compare this to the charge for the man's wallet theft: a class two misdemeanor if the wallet and its contents were valued from $300-$749. To further illustrate this disparity, if the wallet and its contents were valued at $20, theft from the woman would earn a class 5 felony, while if from the man, a class one petty offense. Here, the potential punishment for the woman's theft would be 1-3 years in prison, and for the man's theft, only up to 6 months in jail. Remember, the theft from the woman had nothing to do with her disability. She was not targeted or made an easier victim because of her disability.

How This Law Would Make More Sense

Common sense dictates that something is wrong with this law. Yes, everyone, including me, wants to protect disabled persons. But shouldn't we connect protecting the disabled person with the law's terms? Here is an easy way to do that: Condition application of the At Risk Adult / At Risk Juvenile laws to the commission of the offense. Otherwise, a person can be charged with, and convicted of this more strict crime, when they did not even know of the disability. I would do this by adding a phrase at the beginning of the law on At Risk Adult and At Risk Juvenile laws: "Application of the following provisions shall only occur if, prior to or during the commission of the underlying offense, the accused knew or should have known the victim was over the age of 70, possessed one of the qualifying physical disabilities described below, or possessed one of the mental disabilities described below."

Stepping up the severity of punishment for committing an offense against an At Risk Adult or Juvenile should require a connection between the commission of the offense and the disabled person's disability. Otherwise, we don't achieve any deterrent effect under this law and people are sent to prison for punishments not fairly predictable to them. While it is hard to give sympathy to someone who commits an offense against a disabled person, shouldn't they at least be given some notice? Criminally negligent behavior (non-intentional) causing harm to an At-Risk person, likewise increases the classification of felony for many crimes across Colorado.  Read more about At Risk Adult and At Risk Juvenile law.

If you or a friend is charged with either a felony or misdemeanor crime committed against an At Risk Adult or Juvenile, call the best criminal defense attorney at the O'Malley Law Office at 303-731-0719. Together, we can protect your future.

Definition for At Risk Adult

An At Risk Adult* in Douglas or Adams County is someone seventy years of age or older, or a person who is 18 years old & older, possessing a special disability, like:

  • Missing a hand or foot
  • Blindness
  • Deaf
  • Mute
  • Unable to walk
  • Unable to breath without mechanical assistance, or
  • Mentally / intellectually disabled

*The term "At Risk Elder" is currently almost identical to At Risk Adult, with the 70 year old age requirement.

Definition for At Risk Juvenile

The term "At Risk Juvenile" in Arapahoe and Jefferson County is a chiled not yet eighteen years old, who has a disability like:

  • The loss of a hand or foot
  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Mute
  • Unable to walk
  • Unable to breath without mechanical assistance, or
  • Mentally / intellectually disabled.

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