Denver officials say they are rewriting their guidelines for handling traffic offenses and citations because they appear to call for prosecutors to ignore evidence that suggests innocence.
The stunning statements were uncovered by Brian Maas, an investigative reporter for Denver’s CBS affiliate.
He cites a “Traffic Plea Offers 2013” document that the Denver city attorney’s office confirmed is authentic and still in use.
The document outlines what the city considers acceptable for plea bargains in traffic cases.
“If there is an offer on the citation, do not change that offer,” it explains. If there’s no offer on a ticket, “Bargain each charge on the ticket. Standard reduction is to reduce the points by half, but this can be increased or decreased depending on the circumstances (private or public location; if there’s an accident; amount of damage/injury; weather; bad driving record, etc.). Accident cases are bargained in the same way, but some charges such as speeding and no proof of insurance have separate guidelines, see charge guidelines below.”
The discusses whether to require driving classes, how some charges such as texting or interlock violations are not allowed to be adjusted, and how once a traffic infraction case is set for a final hearing, “all plea bargains are revoked.”
On page 2, however, the section for careless driving states: “If there is a factual basis for careless, bargain it the same as any other charge. If you do not feel the facts support careless, ignore it when making an offer, but do not dismiss it until D [defendant] pleads or the trial date.”
Reported Maass: “David Miller, a former prosecutor in Denver and now a defense attorney, reviewed the document and told CBS4, ‘It is unethical to proceed with a charge when you know that there are no facts to support it. It basically says if you don’t plead guilty I won’t dismiss something I know I can’t prove just to punish you. This is a clear abuse of discretion and a violation of the prosecutor’s code of ethics.'”
Miller continued: “It’s more like dealing from the bottom of the deck. It’s cheating and not an honest, level playing field.”
Maass reported the state’s ethics code for prosecutors is clear, that they shall “refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause.”
“It is fundamentally unfair for the government to keep a charge hanging over your head when they know they can’t prove it,” Harvey Steinberg, a defense attorney in Denver, told Maass. “If they know they can’t prove it beyond a reasonable coubt they are both constitutionally and ethically obligated to dismiss it. When the city knows they can’t prove the charge they have a duty to tell the defendant that. It forces pleas. That’s what it’s all about.”
City officials said that understanding misreads the guidelines.
But they told Maass they will change it anyway.
“The statement that you highlighted failed to include what our prosecutors already know – that the police officer is not available at that time to respond to the driver’s explanation, and therefore many times, the prosecutor won’t know all the facts until right before trial. We will be clarifying the language in this internal document,” Marley Bordovsky, a city spokesman, said in the report.