House committee kills bill to prohibit sealing of municipal domestic violence convictions

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

For the second consecutive year, state lawmakers killed proposed legislation that would have prohibited the sealing of domestic violence-related convictions in municipal courts.

Most assault and battery cases with underlying domestic violence charges are handled in Colorado’s county courts, and those conviction records cannot be kept from the public. But conviction records can be sealed after three years for domestic violence cases heard in the courts of five cities: Aurora, Englewood, Lakewood, Littleton and Westminster.

Rep. Kevin Van Winkle

Rep. Kevin Van Winkle

“The side of the street that you were beat on shouldn’t determine how you are treated under the law,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, R-Highlands Ranch.

The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted 6-3 Monday to postpone HB 16-1115 indefinitely.

The committee sided with opponents who testified that an inability to seal conviction records makes it much harder for even one-time offenders, both male and female, to find employment and housing.

“Overly punishing people does not make our community safer,” said Lisa Calderón, Denver co-chair for the Colorado Latino Forum. “Holding people accountable and also giving them opportunities for behavioral change and increasing the stability factors in their lives has been proven through research to be more effective than shaming and blaming people for their conduct.”

Maureen Cain, policy director for the Colorado Criminal Defense Institute, said the sealing process isn’t easy. Those with domestic violence convictions must show that their personal privacy outweighs the public’s right to know, she testified.

But Arnold Hanuman, staff attorney for the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, said “there shouldn’t be a difference between a municipal domestic violence incident and a state-level domestic violence incident that is charged and prosecuted in county court.  The conduct is the same. The venue is the only thing that allows for the sealing of the record.”

“This (bill) is simply recognizing that the level of domestic violence and the level of the cases seen in municipal courts is just as egregious, just as serious, as the cases heard in county court,” said Lydia Waligorski, public policy director for the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Follow the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition on Twitter @CoFOIC. Like CFOIC’s Facebook page. Visit CFOIC’s legislature page to track bills in the General Assembly that could affect the flow or availability of information in Colorado.

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