Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 23-075 dubbed 'Riley's Law' into law at an event in Colorado Springs. It's the result of a local mom taking action, who lost her 17-year-old daughter in June 2022.
The law which takes effect in 2024 is designed to protect the identities of underage crime victims and witnesses in reports released to the public.
Previously, Colorado state law allowed the redaction of a victim's name in cases of sexual assault of a child, human trafficking, and similar charges. The law already allowed law enforcement agencies to redact a child's name from a record by replacing the name with 'child victim' or 'child witness'. The victim's legal guardian also had the option to request the redaction.
This new law requires the redaction of a child victim or child witness's name on records.
Today, Governor Jared Polis will be signing SB23-075 into law. It’s known as Riley’s Law, which will remove children’s identifying information, including names, from criminal justice records released to the public. This includes children who are victims or witnesses to crimes. pic.twitter.com/KHtqSqU6N3— Ashley Portillo (@AshleyPorteeyo) May 23, 2023
In hearings at the state capitol, Courtenay Whitelaw, the mother of homicide victim Riley Whitelaw, and two of her daughter's friends testified about how the 17-year-old victim's name was released within a warrant for the arrest of her Walgreens coworker Joshua Johnson.
Colorado Springs Police had remained very quiet for days about the homicide investigation inside the Walgreens on Centennial Boulevard in June 2022. The release of the victim's age and name, in connection with the alleged suspect's motive, made it a story of interest in the community.
Courtenay argued her daughter Riley preferred not to highlight herself on social media and that people who knew the family learned of her death from media reports based on the affidavit release.
Courtenay told News5, she doesn’t want her daughter to be remembered by the crime against her. Instead, she wants her daughter to be remembered by the kind 17-year-old she was. Courtenay said Riley was quiet, but was a leader, and never wanted to be in the spotlight, but still found a way of leaving her mark. Courtenay also said Riley got straight A’s in school, and was an ‘old soul,’ that made an impact on so many.
Courtenay added that Riley's law, is her way of protecting other children in the future who may unfortunately be put in similar situations. Courtenay said, Riley was protective of those her around her, and her friends, and this is what she would have wanted.
State Senators Tony Exum (D-El Paso County) and Rhonda Field (D-Aurora) were the primary sponsors of the bill.
Sen. Fields argued the identities of juvenile witnesses to crime need to be protected. She provided examples of witnesses to a school shooting who cooperated with police being contacted after their names were in affidavits released to news organizations. It should be noted law enforcement agencies regularly redact information from documents released to the media due to privacy or case integrity concerns.
While the bill received near unanimous support in the Colorado General Assembly this year, some opponents expressed concerns related to transparency.
The bill also contains a provision for someone to petition a court for the disclosure of the name and identifying information of a child witness or child victim.
The summary text of this section reads, "The person seeking disclosure must establish good cause for disclosure at a hearing conducted after the child victim, child witness, or their respective legal guardian receives notice. Good cause means a finding that the person seeking disclosure has established that the public interest in accessing the child victim's or child witness's name and identifying information substantially outweighs the harm to the privacy interest of the child victim, child witness, or their respective legal guardian."
On Wednesday, News 5's Ashley Portillo will be sharing more of her conversation with Courtenay on News5 at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
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