Crime up statewide 30 percent since 2000 |

Crime up statewide 30 percent since 2000

DENVER ” Colorado district attorneys filed 30 percent more felony cases last year than in the year 2000, a period during which the state’s population grew only about eight percent.

The Rocky Mountain News reported Sunday that last year the state’s 22 district attorneys filed 46,501 felony cases, up from 35,770 in 2000.

Drug cases are a big factor in the increase. Dave Thomas, former Jefferson County district attorney, attributes much of the problem to the emergence of methamphetamines.

Doug Wilson, the state’s chief public defender, said term limits have resulted in the replacement of 13 veteran prosecutors with lawyers with less experience. “I think people are getting their feet wet,” he said. Veteran prosecutors would exercise more discretion in whether to file charges and what charges to file.

The News said the numbers support Wilson. In the 13 judicial districts where term-limited district attorneys left office in 2004, felonies increased 36 percent, even higher than the statewide increase.

All of the major crimes-against-person categories showed double digit increases between 2000 to 2005, including homicide (28 percent), rape (17 percent), robbery (32 percent), burglary (31 percent) and auto theft (57 percent), the Colorado Bureau of Investigation reports.

Scott Storey, who succeeded Thomas, said violent crime is no longer rare in suburban areas. He said murders used to be so infrequent that prosecutors would fight over who got to prosecute them.

“We don’t have that anymore,” he said.

The filing of more charges is felt throughout the system. Overcrowded jails and prisons are taxed even more. “It’s no secret; we’re bursting at the seams,” said Ari Savaras, executive director of the state correctional department.

Wilson said defense lawyers average a caseload of 383 clients.

The pressure forces both sides to plea bargain more cases. Although felony filings are up 30 percent, trials are up only 9 percent.

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