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Colorado Criminal Charges:

and Sentencing
Awards & Recognition

Colorado criminal charges are frightening for people to experience, especially for those wrongfully accused of a crime. Knowing what to expect from a penalty standpoint can help you understand the gravity of your situation and what the future could look like if a prosecutor pursues a conviction. Recent sentencing reform has modified the Colorado Revised Statutes and reduced the penalties associated with certain crimes. In other cases penalties have been increased. On this page, we will discuss Colorado criminal charges and sentences and what to expect if you face charges.

An Overview of Colorado Criminal Charges and Sentences

Criminal offenses are sentenced on a four-tiered scale in Colorado. Our laws classify them as felonies, misdemeanors, petty offenses, and civil infractions.

Crimes generally fall under five broad categories.

Type 1. Crimes Against People

Crimes against people are those that cause another person physical or mental harm. These types of crimes encompass a broad array of charges including assault, harassment, homicides and other violent crimes. When bodily injury to another person is severe enough to result in death, a defendant may face charges such as first-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, or vehicular homicide.

Type 2. Property Crimes

Property crimes involve interfering with another person’s property. While they may result in physical or mental harm to another, they primarily result in property use or enjoyment deprivation. Property crimes can include criminal mischief (i.e. breaking things), burglary, larceny, robbery, auto theft, and shoplifting.

Type 3. Inchoate Offenses

Inchoate crimes are those that are started but never finished, as well as acts that aid in the commission of another crime. They entail more than a single individual intending or hoping to commit a crime. The individual must take steps toward committing the offense for prosecutors to secure a guilty conviction. An example of an inchoate crime is “conspiracy”. If a person makes a plan to commit a crime and takes substantial steps toward committing that crime with another person, they can be charged with conspiracy.

Type 4. Statutory Offenses

Statutory crimes include all crimes that are expressly prohibited by state statutes. Three significant categories of statutory crimes involve alcohol, drugs, and traffic violations. These crimes are explicitly forbidden by law to deter individuals from committing them. You may also hear these crimes called “strict liability” crimes meaning that a person’s mental state, or whether they intended to commit the act, does not matter, only whether they committed the act. A DUI is an example of this type of crime where whether a person meant to drive drunk or not does not matter, all that matters is whether they were intoxicated and behind the wheel

Type 5. Financial Crimes

Financial crimes, also called “white-collar crimes,” usually involve deception or fraud with the intent of obtaining financial gain. Although white-collar crimes are named after the corporate office workers who have historically committed them, they can be committed by anyone in any industry. Using another person’s credit card is one such example of a financial crime.

Colorado Misdemeanor Classification and Sentencing

Following sentencing reform that came into effect on March 1, 2022, Colorado’s new sentencing guidelines classify misdemeanor crimes committed after that date into just two broad classifications: Class I and Class II. The state treats certain misdemeanors differently than other misdemeanors, such as DUIs and minor drug offenses.

Examples of Colorado misdemeanors may include:

  • Third-degree assault
  • Harassment
  • Child abuse
  • Obstruction of telephone (i.e. Preventing someone from calling the police)
  • Animal abuse
  • Invasion of privacy for sexual gratification (i.e. taking sensitive pictures or videos of someone without their consent)
  • Protective order (P.O.) violations

Misdemeanor offense statutes specify the maximum fine and incarceration sentences that a judge may impose.

Judges will use these sentencing guidelines to classify and punish convictions as follows.

Class I Misdemeanors

Class I misdemeanors are the most severe type of misdemeanor offenses and now carry a potential jail sentence of up to 364 days. Courts may also impose a fine of up to $1,000. An individual convicted of a Class I misdemeanor can face both jail time and a fine.

Class II Misdemeanors

Class II misdemeanors carry a maximum jail sentence of up to 120 days. They also can incur fines of up to $750. Courts can elect to impose both penalties.

Drug Charge Misdemeanors

Courts punish drug offenses differently from other misdemeanors. Colorado law classifies drug misdemeanors according to their severity as follows:

  • Level 1. Up to 120 days jail time, $5,000 in fines, and up to two years probation, with maximum penalties increasing significantly for subsequent convictions
  • Level 2. Up to 120 days jail time and a maximum fine of $700 with maximum penalties increasing significantly for subsequent convictions

C.R.S. § 18-1.3-501 is the statute that addresses drug misdemeanor penalties.

Traffic Misdemeanors

Traffic violations and petty misdemeanors are less serious offenses. Each of these offenses has individual sentencing guidelines as follows:

  • Class I Traffic Misdemeanors. Maximum sentence of 10 days to one year in jail and a fine between $300 to $1,000, or both
  • Class II Traffic Misdemeanors. Carry a maximum sentence between 10 and 90 days in jail and a fine between $150 to $300, or both

Driving while ability impaired (DWAI) and driving under the influence (DUI) are considered unclassified misdemeanors unless convicted of four or more prior offenses because their sentencing guidelines differ from those of regular traffic misdemeanors or general misdemeanors. When sentencing individuals convicted of misdemeanor crimes, judges have broad discretion. Probation, rather than incarceration, is an option in many situations, particularly if the person charged has only a few minor or no offenses on their record. Additionally, a judge may grant a deferred sentence, which helps people maintain a clean record upon successful completion of the terms.

However, courts do not have to offer alternatives, nor do prosecutors agree to them unless they believe it’s in the public’s best interest. Ensure you hire a Colorado criminal charges lawyer to determine which options are available to you.

Colorado Felony Classification and Sentencing

All felonies have the potential to require offenders to serve their sentence in state prison making these the most severe types of charges a person can face. For felony convictions, judges can also place offenders on probation and impose fines. Colorado statutes categorize offenses according to their severity.

Crimes that fall under the felony classification may include:

  • Homicide
  • Aggravated robbery
  • Motor vehicle theft
  • Child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury or death
  • Drug trafficking
  • Stalking
  • Assault resulting in serious bodily injury or death
  • Witness tampering
  • False reporting

If you or a family member are defending against felony charges, seek legal counsel immediately. Not only does a felony conviction carry the possibility of prison time, but it may also have a detrimental effect on your future, including loss of job prospects, credibility, firearm privileges, and more. Colorado classifies felonies as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and unclassified. Class 1 felonies are the most severe, while class 6 felonies are the least serious felonies. As with misdemeanors, the individual statute will specify the felony classification for the offense unless the legislature fails to do so.

Class 1 Felonies

Class 1 felonies are the most severe types of offenses under Colorado law. A conviction for a Class 1 felony, such as first-degree murder, carries a life imprisonment sentence.

Class 2 Felonies

Class 2 felonies are reserved for grave offenses. They are, however, less severe than Class 1 felonies. A person convicted of a Class 2 felony generally faces a prison sentence between eight and 24 years, and fines can range between $5,000 and $1,000,000; however, aggravating factors and habitual criminal statutes can increase this range significantly

A person could also serve a mandatory minimum of five years on parole for a violent crime. Otherwise, the offender will serve three years on parole following prison release.

Class 3 Felonies

A Class 3 felony conviction can result in a prison sentence lasting between four and 12 years, assuming there are no aggravating or habitual factors. After release, a person could also serve three years of parole. Judges may also impose fines of up to $750,000 but not less than $3,000.

Class 4 Felonies

Class 4 felonies may include a minimum of two years in prison with a maximum of six years so long as there is no aggravation Additionally, the person must remain on parole for an additional three years following release. Fines range between $2,000 to $500,000.

Class 5 Felonies

Class 5 felonies carry a sentence of between one to three years in prison unless the court determines the offender poses an extraordinary risk. The maximum penalty is four years under those conditions. After release, the parole period is two years, with fines ranging between $1,000 and $100,000.

Class 6 Felonies

Class 6 felony penalties for exceptional risk offenders face a maximum of two years in prison. Otherwise, the offender faces up to 18 months, which could be reduced to as little as one year, and the penalties are identical to those imposed for a Class 5 felony conviction. Parole is imposed for one year following release from prison.

Unclassified and Drug Felonies

The penalty for unclassified felonies is specified in the applicable statute. Generally, the maximum prison sentence for an unclassified felony will not exceed five years.

Level 1 drug felonies carry a mandatory prison sentence of between eight and 32 years in prison. From there, the penalties decrease according to severity.

Habitual Criminal Offenses

In Colorado, repeat offenders can also be sentenced as habitual criminal offenders. These types of charges triple or quadruple the mandatory minimum times someone without a criminal record would face if convicted. Keep in mind, Colorado counts felony convictions from all states for habitual charges, not just those convictions received in Colorado.

There are three main types of habitual offenses that prosecutors normally charge for repeat offenders:

  • Small Habitual Criminal (when someone is convicted of a third Class 1-5 felony in the last 10 years)
  • Large Habitual Criminal (when someone is convicted of a fourth Class 1-5 felony in their lifetime)
  • Domestic Violence Habitual Criminal (when someone is convicted of a fourth domestic violence charge of any level in their lifetime)

Petty Crimes and Civil Infractions

While not as serious as misdemeanors or felonies, petty crimes can also result in negative consequences. As of March 1, 2022, there is only one class of petty offense, which carries a maximum jail sentence of 10 days and a maximum fine of $300.

The sentencing reform that came into effect on March 1, 2022, added civil infractions as the sentence for certain minor crimes, such as bringing alcohol into the baseball stadium or driving on a suspended license. The penalty for civil infractions is a maximum fine of $100 unless otherwise specified in the Colorado Revised Statutes.

Factors That Influence Criminal Classifications and Sentences in Colorado Post-Conviction

Colorado has emphasized the importance of accuracy in public sentencing. Calculating the final sentence for a felony or misdemeanor is challenging. Due to parole decisions and complications regarding when an inmate will become eligible for parole on felony convictions, it is difficult to predict how much of an imposed sentence a defendant will serve in the end. Below, we’ve outlined a few factors that influence time served under the Colorado Department of Corrections Time Computation guidelines:

Automatic 50% Deductions

The automatic 50% deduction rule allows most inmates to receive half-off time for good behavior. However, this legal option is not available for all cases and should be discussed with an attorney. For example, suppose someone is sentenced to eight years in prison after a felony conviction and exhibits exceptional behavior while in prison. In that case, they could get out in as little as four years, but someone who is serving a sentence for a crime of violence cannot serve less than 75 percent of their sentence. Good time is also not available for people who are incarcerated pre-conviction.

Time Earned

Presentence confinement credits and time earned are generally deducted from time served, but not always. You must consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that you are properly being credited for time spent in jail pre-conviction All felony conviction cases can receive credit for time spent in custody before the imposition of their sentences, so long as the person being sentenced was being held on that specific case. This is called presentence confinement credit. You can also earn credit for time in addition to “good time” seen above. Earned time of up to 10 or 12 days may be awarded for each month served post conviction, but generally this earned time must be actually earned by performing a job of some kind such as working in the laundry room or kitchen at the jail. You cannot get earned time while you are confined before taking a plea. Earned time only applies after a conviction enters.

Non-Eligibility for Early Parole

Not all eligible inmates are released on early parole. The maximum period of confinement may be the total duration of the sentence imposed minus any presentence confinement credits or earned time. Exceptions to this rule apply to violent and sex offense convictions who may not be eligible for any credits

Parolee Release

The parole board determines whether or not to grant parole to inmates who have met their court order requirements. In most cases, inmates serve a period of parole supervision commensurate with the gravity of the offense. After a specified period, an offender who is denied parole may reapply.

The setback period can last anywhere from six months to five years. However, parole eligibility does not guarantee parole release.

What to Expect When Facing Colorado Criminal Charges

Being charged with a crime can be devastating. However, an experienced and thoughtful criminal defense lawyer can help you navigate the process, ease your fears, and fight for a favorable outcome that mitigates future damage.

Here is what you can also expect at various stages when facing Colorado criminal charges


If you are arrested, either at the crime scene or on a warrant, you will be booked at the police department, which means you will be photographed, fingerprinted, and reported. You may be detained by police pending a court appearance, which will typically occur within 48 hours.

Take mental notes of each step taken by the police as your lawyer will need to ensure they followed procedures correctly and that your constitutional rights were respected. If you are arrested, you have the constitutional right to speak with an attorney, and it is critical to do so.

Contrary to popular belief, it is better not to tell your side of the story. Avoid answering any questions or providing any information, even if you are innocent!. Make a call and wait for your attorney to arrive before saying anything to law enforcement.


The major states of the case are as follows, however, both the sequence and whether the step will happen at all can vary based on the unique case.

Arrest or Summons

When someone is either arrested or told that they must appear in court because they are being charged with a crime. For example, a ticket is a type of summons.

During an arrest, the police may or may not read the defendant their Miranda rights. Officers are not always required to read those rights placing a person under arrest. They only need to do so if they are going to question that person about potentially incriminating things. Officers can also search the defendant and anything within their reach, such as inside the car where the defendant was sitting.

After an arrest, the defendant may be taken to jail, photographed, fingerprinted, and booked.

Jail and Bond

In most cases, the defendant is entitled to have a reasonable bond set to ensure they show up on the court date. Only in very serious cases and circumstances will defendants not be eligible for a bond. However, some cases, such as domestic violence cases, require input from the alleged victim before the defendant may have a bond set.

The purpose of a bond is to make sure that the person appears in court for their court dates. Bond amounts can be lowered by showing that the defendant is not a danger to the public, that they contribute to society through employment or family care, and that they have ties to the community and are not a flight risk.

There are two main types of bonds:

  • PR (Personal Recognizance)—The defendant doesn’t have to pay any money to get out of court as long as they show up to the court dates. However, if they do not show up to court, the defendant will have a warrant put out for their arrest and will have to pay money to get out next time, if allowed to get out at all.
  • Cash or Surety—The court will set a dollar amount—usually based on the type of crime and the defendant’s circumstances—that the defendant must pay to get out of jail. Sometimes, people can pay a portion of the bond to a bondsperson or bond company and the bond company will handle the remainder. However, if the defendant does not show up to their court dates, the court will issue a warrant and the defendant will also be liable to the bondspersons. Bond companies will often hire bounty hunters to find the defendant if they fail to appear for court.

While in custody, the defendant is entitled to representation by the Public Defender’s Office, but once the defendant is granted bond (and posts the money if needed), they must decide whether to apply for continued representation as an indigent client, hire an attorney, or possibly represent themselves. Because the court system is complex and there are high stakes, especially in criminal cases, it is always a good idea to obtain an experienced criminal defense attorney if at all possible.

Advisement of Charges

The court has an obligation to make sure that the defendant understands what they are accused of doing, and this process is called the advisement of charges.

The DA/prosecutor must list the charges against the defendant, and the judge must ensure the defendant knows the possible penalties. Sometimes, these charges might be different than what law enforcement charged in the beginning, and this can mean lower or less charges or higher or more charges.

When more charges are listed, this can be very frustrating or concerning for defendants. It is a good idea for the defendant to discuss any new charges with their attorney so that they fully understand the elements and the penalty risks of those charges. Keep in mind, the DA/prosecutor can amend or add charges at any point in the case, not just in the beginning.

Preliminary Hearing

At this hearing, the defense attorney can challenge the DA’s right to bring charges against the defendant.

This only happens in certain cases such as:

  • Class 1-3 felonies
  • Class 2 drug felony
  • Crimes of violence
  • Crimes with mandatory prison time

If a defendant is in custody for a lower-level felony, they are also entitled to a preliminary hearing.

A preliminary hearing does not decide whether the defendant is guilty or not. The judge only decides whether the DA has enough probable cause to charge the defendant with the specific crime. A preliminary hearing is special because the DA can bring in evidence that they might not be able to bring into trial and have a very low burden to move forward.

The court must rule with an assumption that the DA’s witnesses would be believed (unless proven incredible) and in the “light most favorable” to the state’s case.

Although it might seem like this makes the role of the defense pointless, having an attorney to represent the defendant during this hearing is very beneficial. A defendant attorney can cross examine the DA’s primary witnesses to get additional information or “pin down” statements under oath to use at trial, and can also introduce some evidence which could make the DA’s witness unbelievable. The defense attorney can also make legal arguments that the DA has not addressed all of the elements and could possibly get the case dismissed.

Importantly, many plea offers from the DA are revoked if the defendant proceeds with a preliminary hearing, so in Colorado often this type of hearing is not done so that the parties can continue negotiating before making a trial decision

Pretrial Conference/Disposition

After the defense attorney has reviewed all of the reports and evidence in the case, they negotiate with the DA on behalf of the defendant. The defense attorney may provide mitigation to the DA to show that there were extenuating circumstances or that the defendant has already started to make changes in their life, among other things. The defense attorney might also communicate with the DA to show that the case is not very strong or likely to result in conviction and/or make counter-offers to the DA based on the defendant’s goals and the attorney’s advice and experience.

The defense attorney must present all offers to the defendant, and only the defendant can choose whether or not to accept an offer. The defense attorney will advise the defendant on the plea offers and then relay the decision to the DA or court, but they cannot make the decision for the defendant


This is generally the final date for the defendant to make the decision on how they want to plead—guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty, the court will set a sentencing date. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case will be set for trial. Once a plea of not-guilty is entered, the court must try the case within six months from that date, with very few exceptions. This is known as the right to a speedy trial.


Generally happening before trial, these hearings can occur at different times, even more than once. These hearings occur when an attorney requests something from the court, such as to include or exclude certain evidence, to request changes in bond conditions,  or to modify a protection order. Some motions can even request dismissal of a case based on certain rules or violations.

The court allows the opposing side to also make arguments on the motion. Sometimes this is done entirely in writing, sometimes orally (in court), and sometimes both. The judge will then make a decision based on the arguments and their understanding of the law.

Even if a motion fails, presenting a motion can be beneficial as it could provide a basis for the defendant to appeal their case if the judge got the law wrong and the defendant loses at trial.

Pretrial Readiness

This court date is set to make sure everyone is ready to go to trial on the set date so that there are no surprise issues. Usually this is scheduled between one week and one month before the trial date. At this hearing, the attorneys will declare whether or not they are ready for trial and they may bring up any issues they have so they can be addressed before the day of trial. Sometimes one or more of the attorneys are not ready. This could be because a witness has a scheduling conflict or further investigation needs to be completed. If new evidence suddenly becomes available, for example, an attorney would likely want to review that evidence before proceeding to trial.

If the DA requests that the trial date be rescheduled, called a continuance, the court must make sure that the new date is still within the 6 month speedy trial date. However, if the defense attorney requests a continuance, the court may ask the defendant to waive their speedy trial date. This means that the 6-month time limit starts over from that day. The defense attorney will be able to provide advice on whether this is a good strategy.

Jury Trial

The jury trial includes a lot of steps, from selecting the jury, to presenting the case, through to jury deliberations. Being prepared for trial requires a lot of work and intensity. The attorney must review all of the evidence, prepare for questioning, and the attorney also will need time to practice the statements they will make at trial. This is in addition to preparing the witnesses and evidence for trial.


This is often the last step in a case, after the defendant has either accepted a plea offer or is found guilty at trial. Sometimes a defendant may have to go through a presentence investigation before being sentenced. If required, usually probation or some other government entity will review the case and the defendant’s personal and criminal background, then they will make a recommendation to the court.

The judge will then decide the appropriate legal penalty for the crime. The judge may consider the recommended or mandatory penalties for the crime, recommendations in the presentence investigation report, the defendant’s criminal history, and any statements made by the DA, defense attorney, defendant, and victims. Occasionally, friends or family members may also be allowed to make statements on behalf of the defendant as well.

If the defendant has agreed to a plea deal with the DA, the judge will often follow that agreement. However, the judge may also modify the agreement based on those factors. Though somewhat rare, judges do have that authority. The defendant’s sentencing may include jail time, fines, probation, community service, education or counseling, or other penalties.


A sealing order makes a case and any records of arrest effectively disappear from the record. Although it can be found with specific motions, the process to retrieve the information is difficult. Only certain cases can be sealed. Traffic cases, including DUIs, are ineligible, for example. All successfully deferred sentences and dismissed cases are eligible for sealing. If a case qualifies, obtaining a sealing is generally a straight-forward process. The attorney prepares motions requesting that the case be sealed and if the judge grants the motion, the defendant must complete certain paperwork and pay fees to the court.


Following the initial court appearances and advisements, you and your attorney will learn about the evidence against you during the discovery phase, which involves exchanging information between the defense and prosecution. Your attorney will meticulously examine the prosecution’s evidence and conduct a thorough investigation to determine the best defense strategy for you. This adversarial process requires a defense attorney with a thorough knowledge of the law, a quick mind, and the ability to think creatively to uncover weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. Additionally, your attorney may develop a plausible alternative theory that casts doubt on the state’s conclusions and may result in a dismissal, a favorable plea bargain, or an acquittal at trial. Your attorney should work closely with you while developing your defense strategy.

While a plea agreement or deferred sentence may be beneficial in some circumstances, they should not be entered into lightly, as both involve a guilty plea. Discuss all possible consequences with your attorney to help you throughout the decision-making process. Remember, ultimately the decision on whether to plead guilty or not ultimately is yours.

A Colorado Criminal Charges Lawyer Can Fight Your Case at Trial

The vast majority of people charged with crimes are offered some type of plea bargain option before setting trial. However, you still have the legal right to fight your charges before a judge or jury (as long as you didn’t waive it previously), even if a plea offer is extended. Working with an experienced and creative criminal defense attorney ensures that you present your case in the best possible light based upon legal advice specifically related to the facts of your case, your current situation, and the available defenses allowable under the law. They can examine and cross-examine witnesses, present conflicting and compelling evidence, and bring to light issues the jury or prosecutor should be aware of while arguing for your innocence. You can get started today by contacting us for a free and confidential case evaluation.

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