DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 26: A three-judge panel for the Colorado Court of Appeals prepares to hear a case in the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on October 26, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo By Kathryn Scott)

The Colorado legislature unanimously approved a bill that, if enacted, would expand protections of the state’s witness intimidation law.

The state House of Representatives advanced the bipartisan legislation in a final 64-0 vote on Tuesday, following the state Senate’s unanimous vote last month. The bill will now be sent to Gov. Jared Polis for final consideration.

"No one should get away with intimidating a witness or pressuring someone to withhold critical information from law enforcement,” said bill sponsor Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon. “We're doing everything we can to protect victims in Colorado, and this bill is a big step in that effort. (It) will give law enforcement and prosecutors additional tools to stop crimes and hold criminals accountable.”

If signed into law, Senate Bill 24 would cover intimidation that influences a person to withhold information or provide false information to law enforcement, a defense attorney or a defense investigator. Currently, the law is limited to intimidation that influences testimony in court, meaning a witness or victim is not protected until after he or she has reported the crime.

District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin of Larimer and Jackson counties said the bill idea came out of his office after years of seeing intimidation of victims and witnesses not protected by the law.

“More and more, we are seeing these threats and intimidation going on prior to any contact with law enforcement,” McLaughlin said during a House panel meeting. “We can’t do anything to protect those victims or deter that."

McLaughlin said intimidation before a crime is reported is common in domestic violence cases, organized crime and gang-affiliated crime. McLaughlin said he’s had cases with years' worth of evidence of intimidation via emails, text messages and social media interactions, but they cannot do anything about it.

Current law already criminalizes the intimidation of a victim or witness to a legal proceeding, but the legislation would also explicitly cover intimidation of any person who may have information relevant to a criminal investigation, as well as any person who is believed to be able to influence a victim or witness.

Intimidating a witness is a Class 4 felony in Colorado, carrying a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a fine of $500,000. From 2018 to 2021, 108 people were convicted and sentenced for intimidating a witness in Colorado, according to state data.

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