Prosecutors across Colorado filed a record number of criminal cases last year, continuing a six-year trend that has resulted in a 30 percent hike in felony cases, reports the Rocky Mountain News. Doug Wilson, Colorado’s chief public defender, attributes the rise to an upswing in drug cases and a recent tendency for prosecutors to file felony escape charges against offenders who stray from halfway houses. Another possible explanation is the result of term limits that ousted 13 veteran prosecutors in 2004. “The only thing I can attribute that to is decision-making by relatively new DAs,” Wilson said. “I think people are getting their feet wet.”
Methamphetamine is fueling a large part of the surge, said Dave Thomas, executive director of the Colorado District Attorney’s Council. Meth leads to drug charges and related charges such as theft, check fraud, identity theft and violent crime. Crime is up statewide. Prosecutors say that filing felonies is one of the most important tools for tackling crime. Defense lawyers say the sheer volume of cases has taken a toll on the quality of justice being provided, causing overburdened case loads and a rising number of inmates. The 240 public defenders in Wilson’s office carry an average case load of 383 defendants per attorney, he said. That’s more than double the load recommended by the American Bar Association. Between 2002 and 2006, Colorado’s adult inmate population grew 20 percent, from 18,551 to 22,350.