Lawmakers in Colorado Town Consider Anti-Shoplifting Bill with Stiff Penalties; ACLU Opines Violation of Accused’s Constitutional Rights

By Melinda Kukaj

AURORA, CO – Local lawmakers here will soon be voting on an anti-shoplifting bill, automatically jailing shoplifters who steal $100 or more worth of merchandise from Aurora stores.

According to Sentinel writer Max Levy, this proposal was endorsed last week by Aurora City Council’s conservative majority, and passed out of study session this Monday.

The Sentinel story noted that “currently, retail thieves who steal $300 or more in goods trigger the automatic three-day jail sentence included in the mandatory minimum sentencing law that the council passed in 2022.

However, this proposal would lower the threshold by $200, and include penalties for repeat offenders, and, according to Levy, trigger “a 90-day minimum jail sentence for anyone convicted of one prior retail theft offense and a 180-day minimum sentence for people who have been convicted at least twice.”

According to the Sentinel, the proposal, sponsored by Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky, was also endorsed by a committee consisting of Councilmembers Stephanie Hancock and Steve Sundberg.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, and national ACLU, sent a letter to the committee shortly before the meeting, issuing a warning the measure could violate the state of Colorado’s constitution.

The ACLU said that “state law allows the combined value of items stolen within six months to be aggregated for the purposes of penalties but that, as long as the total value of the items is less than $1,000, the maximum jail sentence that can be imposed under statute is 120 days.”

ACLU attorneys Laura Moraff and Cat Ordoñez wrote, “Aurora’s authority to prohibit theft cannot be used in a way that violates the state constitutional guarantee of equal protection. Passing the ordinance would expose the city to additional expenses as organizations seek to invalidate the unconstitutional penalties.”

According to Levy, “when chief public defender Elizabeth Cadiz asked about the letter during the committee meeting, Pete Schulte of the City Attorney’s Office said Aurora is free to impose tougher penalties than those established by the state because of the privileges afforded by Aurora’s status as a home-rule city.”

In response to this, Schlute stated “if the City Council passes this ordinance and says this is the law of the land and that shoplifting is not welcome in the city of Aurora, then we will do what we need to do. We’re on a very good legal foundation to support this ordinance if it passes.”

Additionally, in response to the ACLU, Schlute was irritated that the ACLU reached out directly, stating, “I just wish, before they start giving legal advice to our city council members, that they make sure they have a full understanding of what the law is.”

According to Levy’s story, “Hancock and Jurinsky both said they had heard from property owners involved in the Havana Business Improvement District that one of the city’s Goodwill stores is considering shutting down due to frequent shoplifting.”

However, Goodwill of Colorado spokeswoman Stephanie Bell later said “the organization’s decision not to renew the lease on its Mississippi Avenue outlet store at the end of May was ‘not related to shoplifting in any way, shape or form’ and was instead part of a planned consolidation of the store into a location in Westminster.”

In terms of statistical data, year-end crime statistics published by the Aurora Police Department indicated “1,702 incidents of shoplifting were reported in 2023 by Dec. 24 — an increase of about 35.5 percent from 2022, when 1,256 incidents were reported during the same time period.”

However, Aurora’s former interim police chief, Art Acevedo, “previously commented that the uptick in reports doesn’t necessarily reflect an increase in crime, as business owners have become more willing to cooperate with police to follow up on shoplifting.”

The Sentinel reported chief public defender Elizabeth Cadez predicted “the bill would likely increase the workload of the public defender’s office, which is appointed in municipal court cases where an indigent defendant could face jail time, as well as the frequency of defendants taking plea deals, due to the perception that the county jail is more ‘scary and intimidating’ than the city’s jail.”

As stated by Levy in the Sentinel, “the original version of the ordinance specified that the first three days of the 90- and 180-day jail sentences would be served in the city’s jail, after which a repeat offender would be transferred to county jail.”

In response, Jurinsky “amended the ordinance to remove the language specifying where an offender would serve their sentence, to allow judges to order defendants to serve the entirety of their sentence in county jail.”

However, when Councilmember Alison Coombs asked during Monday’s study session “whether city staffers had statistics on the jail sentences handed down under the current mandatory minimum sentencing law, Schulte said they did not but that it is something the city is ‘working on.’”

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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