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Colorado Criminal Charges:

Colorado Criminal Charges

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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. In this article, 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, including:

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 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.

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 & 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
  • Failure to register as a sex offender
  • Invasion of privacy for sexual gratification
  • Protective order (P.O.) violations
  • Sexual assault
  • Unlawful sexual contact

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. Driving while ability impaired (DWAI) and driving under the influence (DUI) are also misdemeanors unless convicted of four or more prior 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

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 & 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:

  • Aggravated robbery
  • Motor vehicle theft
  • Child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury or death
  • Sexual offenses
  • Drug trafficking
  • Stalking
  • Assault resulting in serious bodily injury or death

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. 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 faces a prison sentence between eight and 24 years, and fines can range between $5,000 and $1,000,000.

A person could also serve a 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. 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. 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 prison sentence of between eight and 32 years in prison. From there, the penalties decrease according to severity.

Petty Crimes and Civil Infractions

While not misdemeanors or felonies, petty crimes can also result in serious 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. 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, 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 Comp guidelines:

Automatic 50 Percent Deductions

The automatic 50 percent 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 and exhibits exceptional behavior. 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. All felony conviction cases can receive credit for time spent in custody before the imposition of their sentences. Earned time of up to 10 or 12 days may be awarded for each month served.

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.

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, allay 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. You have the legal and inalienable 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 have committed no wrongdoing. Make a call and wait for your attorney to arrive.


If you’ve been arrested for a crime that will be heard in District Court, the process begins with an initial appearance before a judge. You will be advised of your legal rights. If charged with misdemeanors, you have the option of entering a plea during your initial appearance, which is generally not guilty unless otherwise advised by a lawyer.

You are entitled to a preliminary hearing. The assigned judge will review the evidence to determine whether there is probable cause to file charges. You will generally not enter a plea at your initial appearance if the charge is a felony.

After that, you will be charged formally at an arraignment. This hearing is where the court will read you your formal charges for entering a plea. The court sets bail to ensure your appearance at subsequent proceedings.

If you cannot pay the bail amount, you must contact a bail bonds person. You generally make a 10 percent non-refundable deposit, and the bondsman will post the balance. You will be required to remain in jail until your case is resolved if you cannot come up with the bail bond amount.


Following the preliminary examinations, 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 necessitates 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 cast doubt on the state’s conclusions and may result in a dismissal, a favorable plea bargain, or an acquittal at trial.

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.

Don’t let one wrong decision impact your life, job or freedom.

Call today for a free case evaluation.

Colorado criminal procedure

  • Arrest or

    Arrest or

    The process begins with either an arrest or a summons. The accused is either arrested or served with paperwork summoning them to appear in court. During an arrest, Miranda rights may or may not be read to you. Officers are only required to recite your rights if they intend to question you about potentially incriminating things.

  • Bond Hearing

    Bond Hearing

    In most cases, you're entitled to have a reasonable bond set after you've been arrested. In situations involving domestic violence, the police will request input from the victim before setting a bond. Bonds are set to ensure that a person appears in court at their court dates. If they don’t show up, they forfeit the money that was paid for the bond.

  • Advisement of

    Advisement of

    Whether you are arrested or given a summons to appear, the court must make sure you understand what crimes you are being accused of committing. This is called advisement of charges. The District Attorney will detail the specific charges against you, and the Judge has to make sure you understand what possible penalties are associated with that charge in the state.

  • Preliminary Hearing
    (for Higher Felony

    Preliminary Hearing
    (for Higher Felony

    A preliminary hearing is a way for your defense attorney to challenge the District Attorney’s right to bring charges against you by making them prove that there is reason to believe you committed a crime. The Judge is not deciding your guilt or innocence, but rather whether or not there is probable cause to charge you with the crime in question.

  • Pretrial Conference /

    Pretrial Conference /

    This court date comes after your attorney has reviewed all of the reports and evidence in your case. Here’s where your attorney will engage in plea negotiations with the DA. If they can reach an agreement on the case, you may be able to take a plea bargain. If they cannot reach a resolution, your case will be set for an arraignment or trial date.

  • Arraignment


    An arraignment is the final date for you to decide how you choose to plea. Guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, then the case is set for a sentencing date. If you plead not guilty, you and your attorney will then set the case for trial.

  • Motions Hearing

    Motions Hearing

    A motion hearing is when an attorney makes a request that requires a decision from the judge. For example, motions to suppress evidence or statements. These motions can limit the information that goes before a jury if it benefits your case, and there are legal grounds for doing so.

  • Pretrial Readiness

    Pretrial Readiness

    A pretrial readiness conference is held at some point before trial. It usually is held about a week to a month before the date trial is set to begin. This court date ensures everyone is ready to go to trial on the set date. It is also a time for lawyers to bring up any issues they may have to be addressed before the day of trial.

  • Jury Trial

    Jury Trial

    After a jury is selected for trial, the District Attorney’s responsibility is to present the case to the jury. The DA must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the crime. Otherwise, the jury must find you innocent. Your attorney will be able to cross-examine all of the witnesses, present evidence, and ultimately help you navigate this process.

  • Sentencing


    At sentencing, the Judge must decide the appropriate legal penalty for the crime you plead guilty. The Judge’s decision is based on the listed penalties for the specific charge, recommendations from the presentence investigation, your criminal history, as well as statements made at the sentencing by the District Attorney, your attorney, you, and any named victims of the crime.

Experienced Criminal Charges Attorneys

A Colorado Criminal Charges Lawyer Can Fight Your Case at Trial

The vast majority of defendants accept plea bargains before going to 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) regardless of the facts. Working with an experienced and creative criminal defense attorney ensures that you present your case in the best possible light based upon legal advice, the current situation, and the law. They can examine and cross-examine witnesses, present conflicting evidence, and more while arguing for your innocence. You can get started today by contacting us for a free and confidential case evaluation.