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Denver courts administering high number of personal recognizance bonds

Nearly one-third of those suspected criminals fail to show for later court date
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Posted at 9:57 PM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-11 00:45:08-05

DENVER — Roughly one-third of suspects given a personal recognizance bond in Denver County Court on felony charges fail to show for a future court appearance, Denver7 Investigates has learned.

Personal recognizance bonds, or PR bonds, allow a suspected offender to get out of jail without having to pay any money with just a promise to return to court when ordered. The number of people failing to appear in court, along with the sheer number of PR bonds being handed out has caught the attention of two former district attorneys in the Denver metro area.

“It’s time we look at this system because this system is failing,” said former Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, who served in the post from 2005-2017. “There are way too many of these [PR bonds], and that’s what’s causing Denver to not be the safe place that it should be.”

Since Jan. 1, 3,690 accused criminals who were facing nearly 8,000 felony charges were granted PR bonds, according to records obtained and analyzed by Denver7 Investigates. Some of those charges that resulted in PR bonds in court include aggravated sex offenses, habitual offenders of domestic violence and pimping.

George Brauchler, a former district attorney for the 18th Judicial District that spans mainly Arapahoe and Douglas counties, said the data was shocking. Brauchler left office earlier this year.

“It’s reckless,” Brauchler said. “I don’t understand it. The numbers you are talking about are significant.”

The data also shows more than 100 criminals with prior felonies who were arrested for new crimes caught possessing weapons. Also, two accused criminals who were out on PR bond in 2020 were later arrested on murder charges, including Stephanie Martinez, who was charged with killing an 80-year-old man who was feeding pigeons near the State Capitol building.

Martinez was convicted of homicide last week and will be sentenced in January.

“There are a lot of violent offenses on here,” Morrissey said while looking at the data.

Of the 3,690 felony cases, 1,189 — or 32% — resulted in the defendant failing to appear for a future court appearance. Those 1,189 alleged criminals are facing 2,638 felony charges. By comparison, 14% of suspected felons who received a monetary bond failed to appear.

One suspect who missed an appearance was Martin Gonzalez-Pena, who was arrested on a series of felony drug dealing charges after he was caught with large amounts of fentanyl and heroin. After he was granted a PR bond in his initial hearing, he failed to show up for his second advisement on Oct. 21.

“They are not taking these PR bonds seriously,” Morrissey said. “Not only are they not coming back to court, but they’re not stopping the criminal behavior.”

Victims speak out

Crime is up more than 25% in the past year in Denver, according to data provided by Denver police. The numbers included crime statistics from the start of the year through September.

Burglary is up 15% over that time period, robbery is up 9% and auto theft has jumped 66%.

Juan Munoz, who says his business has been victimized repeatedly over the past year, showed Denver7 Investigates security footage of thieves stealing roughly $5,000 worth of generators from his business’ property.

At least one of the suspects arrested in connection with the thefts was released on a PR bond.

“We have a broken system,” Munoz said. “I don’t have words to express it. They are getting away scot-free.”

Mike Morrison had two cars stolen in one night recently, one of which was later recovered.

When Morrison saw the number of motor vehicle thefts where the suspects received PR bonds, he said it didn’t make sense.

“I’m sure they stole before, and they stole again because they are not getting punished for it,” Morrison said.

Addressing the issue

Bond guidelines in Denver courts are set by a joint administrative order within the Second Judicial District, which encompasses Denver. The policy is a result of an agreement between all stakeholders, including the all Denver courts, the district attorney’s office, the office of the public defender and pretrial services.

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, who spoke to another media outlet about the same topic, declined Denver7’s request for an interview, as did Denver County Court’s presiding judge.

According to Denver County Court staff, all individuals released on PR bond are placed in pre-trial supervision, which is not necessarily the case for other bonds.

Staff also noted some potential factors that could have led to an increase in PR bonds, including a rise in felony crime in Denver as well as legislative mandates and bail reform initiatives from the state’s legislature over the past three years.

McCann’s office released a statement that read: “Part of our office’s mission is to prevent and deter crimes and we are in court every day fighting to keep people in custody who present a danger to the public.

"Bond serves two purposes: to keep violent offenders away from the public and to ensure that offender shows up for court.

"DA McCann believes we should re-examine our entire system of bond because we have a 'class system' where a wealthier offender can post bond and get out of jail the same day whereas a person of lesser means accused of the same crime stays in jail awaiting trial. We’ve seen offenders get $100,000 cash-only bonds, pay it and be back on the streets the same day.”