SAN LUIS VALLEY, Colo. — For the first time in the 30-year history of the Victim’s Rights Act, the attorney general has enforced compliance with the law after an investigation found the 12th Judicial District Attorney in violation of the VRA.
Attorney General Phil Weiser announced an agreement that ensures 12th Judicial District Attorney Alonzo Payne and his office honor and protect the rights of crime victims moving forward on Tuesday.
By law, district attorneys must make certain that crime victims are afforded their rights under the VRA at all critical stages in the prosecution of their cases.
District Attorney Payne’s office routinely failed to communicate with victims, consult with victims about plea deals or case dismissals, and treat them with respect and dignity, according to a review by Colorado’s Crime Victim Services Advisory Board, complaints from crime victims, and findings from an investigation by the Colorado Department of Law.
“Victims’ rights must be upheld during the justice process. By excluding, disregarding, and disrespecting victims, District Attorney Payne and his office dishonored crime victims, and worse, compounded the trauma suffered from the crimes committed against them,” said Weiser.
The Department of Law began its investigation in February after the Crime Victim Services Advisory Board reviewed eight complaints against Payne and his office. The advisory board referred the complaints to Governor Jared Polis’ office who then referred the complaints to the attorney general as required by law.
“Because the district attorney’s office failed to allow victims’ input and consultation during the justice process as required by law, those victims lost the chance to contribute to just outcomes in their cases. In some instances, the office may even have placed victims’ safety at risk,” Weiser said.
The attorney general is authorized under Colorado law to file suit to enforce compliance with the VRA. Additionally, they are to remedy violations of law by governmental authorities that engage in a pattern or practice of infringing upon the rights secured by Colorado’s constitution.
The agreement requires an outside independent monitor to oversee Payne’s office and its compliance with the VRA as well as the Colorado Constitution. It also requires the implementation of new policies and procedures, the completion of regular trainings, and improved communication with victims and stakeholders.
“Today’s agreement cannot right past wrongs. It does, however, put in place a framework to ensure that the 12th Judicial District Attorney’s Office— subject to independent, enforceable oversight— honors the needs of crime victims and ensures their rights are protected,” stated Weiser.
Under the compliance agreement, the DA’s office is required to:
- Retain an outside monitor, chosen by the State and funded by the DA’s office, to oversee the office’s future compliance with the VRA. The DA’s office will provide full access to its documents and personnel to the monitor.
- Review and revise its VRA policy as well as create procedures for contacting victims in a timely manner.
- Adopt and implement new mandatory training for employees to ensure compliance with the office’s new policies and procedures.
- Revise the office’s website, create new informational materials, and notify victims of their VRA rights.
- Conduct quarterly meetings with staff and stakeholders, including law enforcement partners, to improve communication about VRA compliance and office operations relating to VRA cases.
The monitor will conduct quarterly reviews to track the DA’s office’s compliance with the agreement and the VRA. The attorney general may bring a civil lawsuit or seek a court order to enforce provisions of the agreement.
If the DA’s office violates the agreement repeatedly, the State may also require the office to transfer VRA cases to prosecutors outside of Payne’s office, who will receive funding from the DA’s office to prosecute those cases.
The agreement will last for at least three years or six months following the date on which a new district attorney succeeds Payne at the DA’s office, whichever comes first. The exact duration will be determined by how long the 12th Judicial District Attorney’s Office takes to substantially comply with the requirements of the compliance agreement. The decree will be extended if the DA’s office is not in substantial compliance.