Colorado prison audit results in few changes in sentencing

By Andrea Sinclair Published: August 14, 2013 | 5:10 pm 0

Colorado judges left 1,238 sentences unchanged following the completion of a massive audit conducted by the Colorado Department of Corrections that began in April.

Of 1,807 offender files subject to the Consecutive/Concurrent Court Order Audit, only 267 were amended, according to documents released Wednesday.

"Each case flagged by the corrections department for review was sent back to its original sentencing judge, because they each have the historical knowledge to make the decision whether to change the sentence or not," Judicial Department spokesman Robert McCallum said. "Some cases may have required general overviews and others may have needed a lengthier and deeper review of the court records."

Department officials reviewed 8,607 cases, determining that 3,249 - 38 percent were questionable, records show. A secondary review further narrowed the sentences to 1,807, which were sent to their respective courts for judicial review.

"As of August 12, 276 court orders have been amended impacting 267 offenders," department spokeswoman Alison Morgan said. "The parole board determined to send nine offenders back to prison and 12 were re-paroled."

The questionable cases, prison officials said, could have mistakenly allowed convicts to get less time behind bars, as technicalities potentially caused their sentences to be handed down concurrently instead of consecutively, as in Evan Ebel's case.

Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered the department to audit thousands of offender files after a sentencing error caused the early release of Ebel, the main suspect in the murder of Corrections Director Tom Clements in March.

Ebel was in prison serving time for robbery when he assaulted a prison guard in 2008, earning him an additional four-year sentence. In a clerical error, a Fremont County judge failed to indicate the sentence was to be consecutive and the department interpreted it as concurrent.

The department and the Judicial Department implemented a bill signed by Hickenlooper on May 28 that mandated clarification from the courts when a defendant is sentenced to two or more terms of incarceration and any order concerning the sentences does not clearly indicate how the sentences are to be served.

Retired corrections employees were hired back to help with the initial sentence review that spanned several months. The records of inmates convicted of 19 violent crimes such as homicide and sex offenses were reviewed.

The judicial department continues to review 551 case files, of which 280 are awaiting response, 14 percent of the cases remaining.

"We just keep plugging away at each case, on a daily basis, so there is no clear date for completion," McCallum said.

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