Denver DA refuses to prosecture over 70 percent of sexual assault cases

It is no wonder the Denver DA didn’t want to go on camera to explain why his office refused to prosecute over 70 percent of sexual assault cases and 36 percent of all felonies. Any explanation he could give would certainly fall short. Yet his insistence on having the 7News interview recorded by his office, while refusing to allow the interview to be taped by the news station, ultimately backfired, as 7News was able to obtain a copy of the tape through the state’s open record laws.

When 7News reporter Keli Rabon asked DA Mitch Morrissey why she couldn’t tape the interview when it was being recorded by a DA’s office representative, Morrissey responded, “We’re off camera, you’re on camera. If you don’t want to do this way, I have other things to do, so it’s up to you” (7News). He said he didn’t want the news station to edit his remarks. Instead, when the entire video was aired, his own words left him open to criticism.

Denver’s refusal rates are significantly higher than the rates of other Front Range judicial districts, as well as other cities nationwide: “For overall felonies, the 19th Judicial District, in Weld County, refused the least at 2 percent and the 18th, including Arapahoe and Douglas counties, refused the most with 11.5 percent. Both are still well below Denver’s 36 percent overall felony refusal rate. The statistics for all jurisdictions are an average over at least three years. Only Denver and Jefferson counties could break felony sex assault data out of the overall felonies. That comparison shows Jefferson County declined 29 percent of sex assaults while Denver declined 71 percent. Other district attorneys around the country have prosecution rates that are higher than Denver but lower than most other Colorado judicial districts. Prosecutors in King County, which includes Seattle, reject 47.5 percent of sex assaults and 21.4 percent of overall felonies. In Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, prosecutors reject 31.4 percent of all felonies brought by police and 57.6 percent of sex assaults” (7News). It definitely seems suspect that Denver’s refusal rates are so much higher than other counties nationwide, and it is particularly disturbing that between the neighboring districts of Denver and Jefferson there is such a disparity in refusal rates–71 percent versus 29 percent.

According to Morrissey, his office refuses to prosecute any case if there is not a reasonable likelihood of conviction. In other words, his prosecutors are more concerned with their conviction success rate than they are with trying to obtain justice for victims. And it is just another example of those in a position of power not taking sexual assault allegations seriously–at least not seriously enough to attempt to prosecute perpetrators. The DA’s office might come out ahead by having a high rate of convictions, but victims are re-victimized when they don’t receive the justice they deserve.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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