A Typical Colorado Felony Case Timeline
Colorado divides its criminal cases into two basic categories, felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies are divided into six categories, the most serious being Class 1 felonies. The least serious are Class 6 felonies. By way of example, 1st Degree Murder is a Class 1 felony and carries with it life imprisonment without benefit of parole. Burglary of a Dwelling is a Class 3 felony and carries with it the possibility of four to twelve years in the Department of Corrections. Menacing with a Firearm is a Class 5 felony and carries with it the possibility of one to three years in prison. Our scheme involving dividing felonies into categories is meant simply to assign criminal liability in a forthright and clear way: the higher the felony category the more serious the offense. Thus, the higher the felony category, the higher the "presumptive range" of incarceration in the State's Department of Corrections. As a general rule, a felony under Colorado law is any case in which a Defendant can be sentenced to the Colorado Department of Corrections. A misdemeanor case, on the other hand, involves only the possibility of a County Court jail sentence. This section is meant to provide a quick overview of how a felony case progresses through the Colorado Criminal Court system. Aside from minor variances from county to county, this section will apply to all felony cases, excluding Class 1 felonies.
It is not my intention in this section to cover all of the law and nuances which might apply to each stage or to discuss differences in tactics or practical considerations that might apply from case to case. However, this template should provide you with a general sense in terms of what to expect from a procedural standpoint should you be charged with a felony under Colorado Law.
Your First Appearance will normally be an Advisement Hearing and this is normally handled by a Magistrate rather than the District Court Judge who will ultimately inherit your case. This Advisement may be a video Advisement if you are still in custody at the time of your Advisement Hearing. On the other hand, if you bond out prior to your initial Advisement it will normally be set within a week or 10 days of your release. If you remain in custody, the Rules state you must be taken "without unnecessary delay" before a Judge or Magistrate. This Initial Advisement Hearing is also meant to apprise you of the anticipated charges against you, the possible penalties associated with those charges, as well as your Constitutional and Statutory Rights. If you are still in custody, the Court may set your bail as well as raise or lower it.
Absent extraordinary circumstance, it will be necessary for a felony Defendant to personally appear at each and every Court date. If a Court date is missed, your Bondsman has a right to be notified and he or she may well revoke your bond, thereby sending you right back into custody.
The next Court appearance is normally your First Appearance in front of the actual District Court Judge who will handle your case through either a Sentencing Hearing or through your eventual Trial. Your first Court date in front of the felony court Judge is normally also an Appearance of Counsel date. At this First Appearance in front of the District Court Judge you will also receive a copy of the Bill of Information concerning the charges against you. This Bill of Information will outline the formal charges against you as alleged by the District Attorney.
If you are charged with a Class 3 felony or higher, or if you are still in custody at this First Appearance in front of the District Court Judge, you are owed a Preliminary Hearing under Colorado Law. Unless the time requirements are waived, you must be given a Preliminary Hearing within 35 days of requesting it. This Preliminary Hearing is a screening device meant to ensure that there are sufficient facts to persuade the Judge to allow the case to proceed. This Preliminary Hearing is not meant to establish guilt or innocence but simply to inform the Judge as to whether there is Probable Cause to believe that the crime as alleged in the Charge Sheet occurred and that you committed that crime. If the Judge believes that Probable Cause exists, the case will then usually proceed immediately to Arraignment which is the actual entrance of a guilty plea or not guilty plea. Normally if the case has proceeded to a Preliminary Hearing the plea will be not guilty and the case will then be set for Trial. Under Colorado's Speedy Trial Rules your Trial must be commenced within 6 months of your entrance of a not guilty plea.
If you are charged with a crime involving allegations of a Class 4 felony or lower, your case will normally be set for a Dispositional date (or Arraignment date) subsequent to your First Appearance in front of the District Court Judge. The normal timeline for this Dispositional date is somewhere between 30-45 days after your initial appearance in front of the Felony Court Judge. The Dispositional date is the moment at which the Judge will want to know if a Plea Bargain has been worked out between you and the prosecutor or if instead you request that the case be set for Trial.
If a case is set for Trial, Defense attorneys will often file legal Motions arguing, for instance, that certain unconstitutionally discovered evidence be suppressed or requesting some other similar relief from the Judge. The Judge may set these legal Motions for a separate Hearing. If the case ultimately proceeds to Trial it can be in front of a Jury, which is the most common scenario, or it can be tried by a Judge alone. If a Judge tries the case by herself then she alone decides whether a Defendant is guilty or not guilty. If the Defendant is found guilty by the Judge then she alone decides the issue of guilt or innocence. The Judge still decides the appropriate sentence should be a verdict of guilty be returned after a Jury Trial. Under Colorado law, any Jury verdict must be unanimous, meaning that all twelve jurors must agree on either a finding of guilt or a finding of not guilty.
Interestingly, under the American Criminal Justice System, there is no such thing as a verdict of "innocent." Our system does not decide whether a criminal Defendant actually did it but simply whether the Prosecution proved that he did it. Thus, the philosophical difference between a "not guilty" verdict and a verdict of "innocent." If a Jury is unable to reach a unanimous decision, the case is declared to be a Mistrial and the District Attorney can then elect to proceed again with another Trial. Generally, the second Trial has to begin within 90 days of the declaration of the mistrial.
While all cases are different and may often involve variations to the above timeline, I hope this is helpful to your understanding of how a typical felony case proceeds through the Colorado Criminal Justice System.Go Back