Hit-and-Run Sentencing Can Depend on Jurisdiction, Analysis Finds

Police investigate a hit-and-run incident on  at the intersection of 13th Avenue and Lafayette Street in central Denver in April 2014. A female passenger in one of the cars hit was seriously injured.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

Police investigate a hit-and-run incident on at the intersection of 13th Avenue and Lafayette Street in central Denver in April 2014. A female passenger in one of the cars hit was seriously injured.

Location can make a difference in sentencing for hit-and-run motorists who leave injured victims behind, according to an analysis by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News into what some are calling Colorado’s ongoing hit-and-run epidemic.

The analysis, part of an ongoing collaboration between I-News and 9News, looked at sentences imposed by large Front Range judicial districts between 2009 and 2013 for the felony charge of hit-and-run resulting in serious injury.

The biggest differences centered on the use of prison time vs. probation, the analysis found.  They ranged from the Adams County judicial district, where 7 of 16 defendants got prison sentences for injury hit-and-run crimes to the Arapahoe/Douglas county district where only 1 of 15 defendants was sentenced to prison.

The other major counties fell somewhere in between – 8 of 23 defendants in Denver, 1 of 8 in Jefferson County and 5 of 13 in El Paso County received prison sentences, the analysis found.

Overall, prison terms were handed down in 27 of 92 cases in Colorado during the five years.

Denver and Adams County accounted for more than half of the prison sentences and 40 percent of all cases.

In Adams County, District Attorney Dave Young considers fleeing the scene an aggravating factor when it comes to sentencing recommendations to judges.

“We’ve always taken them very seriously in Adams County,” Young said. “The nature of the hit-and-run case is the lack of taking responsibility.”

In addition, the injured and killed are often random victims, he said.

“The difficult thing is these victims are everyday citizens,” Young said. “They’re not putting themselves in harm’s way by participating in the drug trade or something like that.”

In Arapahoe County, recently elected District Attorney George Brauchler said he has told his prosecutors to toughen plea bargains in all hit-and-run cases.

“These are unique crimes because they are attempts to beat the system,” Brauchler said. “We probably inherited a culture that viewed this as less serious than many of the violent crimes and sex offenses that we prosecuted.”

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