Deportation fears change court process in Denver, city allowing mail-in pleas

Pilot program is underway in traffic court

DENVER -- Fears of deportation kept many people from showing up to court and prompted a policy change allowing some to skip certain hearings. 

Denver is now allowing people to mail in a plea for traffic court. The pilot program started several weeks ago as a response to the fear and anxiety city leaders were hearing from constituents.

"Because of their fear of coming into the courthouse, they weren’t showing up for their hearings which only made their legal situation worse," said Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson.

If successful, mail-in pleas could be expanded to other courts. Denver officials are also looking into the possibility of allowing people to Skype into court proceedings. 

Mail-in pleas are not only easing fears, but the move is saving resources and money.

"We think it’s going to really help to clear court dockets because we won’t have to have as many in court hearings. We also won’t have to have prosecutors and public defenders staffing those cases," said Bronson.

Recently released videos showed ICE agents arresting people at the courthouse as they showed up for hearings. The city attorney said she is exploring other options but she cannot prevent ICE from entering the court. 

Victims and suspects no longer have to wait in court hallways. They can wait inside the Rose Andom Center, a place for victims of domestic violence, located right by the courthouse.

The city attorney is also working on a series of sentencing reforms that could keep some people from being deported. Currently, immigrants serving a year or more can show up of the fed's radar giving them reason for deportation. Bronson wants to revisit some of those sentencing guidelines for low level offenses.

"So for example, for green card holders or folks here on student visas or work visas, if they committed these lower level municipal infractions because of the way our sentences are structured, they might be subject to deportation," said Bronson.

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