Criminal procedure in Colorado can be complicated and incredibly difficult to manage on your own. People will say that it is our actions that define us, but the fact of the matter is, that’s only partially true. The truth is, everyone can make a poor decision at some point in their life, but we believe that in most cases this should not completely upend the course of a person’s life.
If you have been arrested in Colorado and are facing the prospect of dealing with the criminal justice system, having an understanding of the process you will be facing is crucial to the success of your case. Here is what you can expect from the criminal procedure in Colorado.
The 10 Steps of the Criminal Procedure in Colorado
1. Arrest or Summons
This is the date that someone is either arrested for an alleged crime or they are served with paperwork saying that they have to appear in court because they are being accused of committing a crime. During an arrest, police may or may not read a person their Miranda rights. Many people think they are entitled to be read their rights, but officers actually only have to read rights if they are going to question you about potentially incriminating things. Officers can also search you and anything within your reach, so they can search inside your car where you were sitting even without a warrant. After being arrested, you can be taken down to the jail, photographed, fingerprinted, and booked into jail.
2. Bond Hearing
If you are arrested in a case, you are entitled to have a reasonable bond set in most cases. Some cases, such as DV cases, require input from the alleged victim before you can have a bond set. Bonds are set to ensure that a person appears in court at their court dates, otherwise, they lose the money paid for the bond. Your lawyer can argue to reduce the amount of bond set by showing the court that you are not a danger to the public, that you contribute to society by working and supporting your family, and that you have ties to the community which means you will not be a flight risk if you bond out.
3. Advisement of Charges
Whether you are arrested or given a summons to appear, the court always has to make sure you understand what you are being accused of doing. This is called an advisement of charges. The District Attorney must list the specific charges against you, and the Judge has to make sure you understand the possible penalties associated with that charge. A good defense attorney will make sure you already know your charges and possible penalties before you go to court, but the Judge is still required to formally advise you on the record.
4. Preliminary hearing (for higher felony charges)
If you are charged with a Class 1, 2 or 3 Felony, a Class 2 Drug Felony, a COV (crime of violence), or any charge requiring mandatory prison time, or if you are in custody for any lower-level felony charges, you are entitled to a preliminary hearing. 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 probable cause to even hold you on the charge. It is like a mini-trial, but the rules of evidence are more relaxed than in trial and the Judge is not deciding your guilt or innocence, but rather whether the District Attorney has enough probable cause to charge you with the specific crime.
5. Pretrial Conference/Disposition Hearing
Pretrial Conferences and Dispositions are basically the same thing. Generally, these court hearings are called pretrial conferences in misdemeanor cases and felony cases call them disposition hearings. This court date comes after your criminal defense attorney has reviewed all of the reports and evidence in your case. Your attorney will then engage in plea negotiations with the District Attorney. If they can reach an agreement on the case and you want to take a plea, the case will be set for a plea or sentencing date. If they cannot come to a resolution, your case will either be set for an arraignment date or you will set it for trial.
An arraignment date is the final date for you to make a decision on how you want to plea. 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. If you enter a plea of not guilty, the court must try your case within 6 months. This is known as your right to a speedy trial. Speedy trial is only triggered once you enter a plea of not guilty.
7. Motions Hearing
Motion hearings can happen at multiple places during the case process. In order to have a motions hearing, your attorney must be requesting something of the court that requires the Judge to make a decision. Some common motions are motions to modify protection orders, motions to suppress evidence, and motions to suppress statements made by you during the investigation. Usually, motions to suppress are filed when you are set for trial. These motions are to limit the information that goes before a jury if it will be advantageous to you and there are legal grounds for doing so. For example, if the police asked you questions about the alleged crime but they did not read you your Miranda rights first, your lawyer can file a motion to suppress any incriminating statements you made because you were not properly advised of your rights.
8. Pretrial Readiness Conference
A pretrial readiness conference is held at some point before trial. Normally it is held 1 week – 1 month before the date trial is set to begin. This court date is set to make sure 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 so that they can be addressed before the day of trial. Sometimes either the District Attorney or your attorney is not ready for trial. Most often we see this happen when witnesses have scheduling conflicts or when further investigation needs to be done in a case. If the District Attorney asks for a continuance, the Judge has to make sure your speedy trial rights are not violated, so the case must still be set before the 6-month clock is up. If you and your defense attorney request a continuance, a Judge may require that you waive your right to speedy trial meaning that the 6-month speedy clock will have to be reset in order for you to get the continuance. Your attorney can give you advice on whether this is an appropriate strategy for your specific trial case.
9. Jury Trial
Jury trial entails more than just presenting the case to a jury. First, both sides have to pick the jury through a process known as Voir Dire. After a jury has been selected, it is the District Attorney’s responsibility 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 that the District Attorney presents and if necessary, your defense attorney can present witnesses on your behalf. Criminal defendants are not required to present any evidence, however. If the District Attorney fails to prove the case, you could win without ever having to present any evidence at all. A good criminal defense attorney can help you navigate these legal nuances and develop the best possible defense strategy for your case.
10. Sentencing Date
Sentencing is generally the last step of the criminal procedure in Colorado and it happens when you either decide to take a plea offer given by the District Attorney, or after the trial if you are found guilty of any of the charges. Sometimes you have to go through a presentence investigation before you can be sentenced. This is normally done with probation or another government entity whose job it is to review the case, review your personal and criminal background, and then make sentencing recommendations to the court. At Sentencing, the Judge must decide what the appropriate legal penalty is for the crime to which you are pleading 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. Sometimes you can have friends or family also make statements on your behalf.
Facing the prospect of dealing with criminal procedure in Colorado?
If you have been arrested for a crime in the state of Colorado, you don’t have to battle the criminal justice system on your own. An experienced Colorado Criminal Defense Attorney will be able to help you navigate this complicated and stressful time of your life. Reach out today for a free consultation.