John Hickenlooper is a Democrat who served as the governor of Colorado between 2011 and 2019. He brought many changes to Colorado’s legislation, and the population was more than happy with them. Nowadays, Hickenlooper is not a governor anymore, but he did inform the public that he will be running for the presidential elections in 2020.
The Progressive Politics of Hickenlooper
Hickenlooper always had the ambition to reform the justice system in the USA, and he started with Colorado. He stated that they should renew their commitment to a reformed justice system that addresses the long history of slavery, segregation, and racial bias. One could say that Hickenlooper made a reference to all those policemen arresting black people based on their own racial prejudice.
What the governor actually had in mind was something that a lot of European have been doing for years now — to treat prisoners fairly and put them back into society. Of course, Hickenlooper didn’t mean just any type of prisoners. This thought of his came along with the idea of sealing criminal records for minor misdemeanor convicts in the state.
By minor misdemeanor, he mostly meant people accused of possessing or using only small amounts of marijuana. This goes for all the people convicted before Dec 10. 2012, and not a day after that. Colorado was probably the first state to do so, and by all means, Coloradans should be happy with such a progressive governor.
Although Hickenlooper somewhat turned Colorado into a forward-thinking state and left it more progressed by the end of his mandate, many are wondering if these actions were honest.
People are concerned that this governor only signed laws, and nothing else. Did they ever make a difference? Or could he have done better?
Here’s a simple clue why people in Colorado sometimes believe that what Hickenlooper did regarding the convicts wasn’t the most genuine move. The governor of Colorado traditionally has more powers than governors of other states. Of course, these rights are still limited and are not in any way authoritarian. However, there is one area of the law where the governor of Colorado has absolute authority — pardoning people.
Section 7 — Where the Governor’s Powers Hide
According to section 7 of the Colorado constitution, the governor has the power to pardon people after conviction for everything but treason and impeachment. This also goes for reprieves and commutations. This pardoning, of course, needs to be in the manner law has previously set.
So to make it simple, the governor has the right to pardon convicts as long as he/she does so according to the law.
The way this works is quite simple. First, the convict needs to receive all the necessary documentation on his case, as well as comments from the warden of the correctional facility. The governor reserves the right to seek assistance and speak to the lawyer and judge who worked on the case. The governor can also evaluate all the comments and can discreetly evaluate them.
Now, although this law still exists in Colorado, Gov. Hickenlooper decided not to refer to it at all. Instead, he signed the HB17-1266 legislation, which allows for convicts who possessed marijuana in small amounts seal their records and be pardoned. Additionally, the defendants are obliged to pay for all the court fees. Also, they must bring a lot of evidence as to why the court should rule in favor of the convict.
Should the court rule in favor of the convict, the defendants must also pay additional fees to the Bureau of Investigation for sealing the records. The estimates say that there are 9,672 cases of marijuana convictions between 2007 and 2012. Other estimates say that only 5% out of these 9,672 cases would seek their criminal records be sealed.
All of these fees together are actually not that high as one might expect — altogether, they are $316. The only problem here is that the defendants might be more expensive than expected. For a convict to seal their criminal records, they will need the assistance of people who are well familiar with the law. The prices at which the defendants might offer their services can be potentially high.
What Could Have Hickenlooper Done Differently?
There are two popular opinions when it comes to this topic. Some people believe Gov. Hickenlooper did the best thing, while others believe he could have used his legislative power better. They’re wondering that maybe it would have been better and easier for Hickenlooper to simply use his pardoning right upon some prisoners.
Others, however, claim that he went for the better idea — nobody could guarantee that the next governor would be big on the pardoning idea. This way, he left this legislation as his legacy that governors after him will need to respect.
The moral question here is, what if a prisoner who cannot afford to pay for the court fees gets released? His criminal records will still be open — so is it fair that he should have this stain in his files just because he couldn’t pay? If the governor pardons a convict, their criminal record gets sealed.
If, by any chance, Hickenlooper becomes an elected president, will he use his executive authority better to decriminalize marijuana? Moreover, if he comes with an even better solution, will he leave Coloradans in the dust or will he help them the most? It looks like we will have to wish the best of luck to Hickenlooper, and hope he will do what’s best.