The purpose of this section is to provide an overview of criminal procedure in Colorado state courts. Arrest
The police arrest someone based on probable cause that they have committed a criminal offense. Probable cause means a reasonable ground or belief in certain alleged facts. However, the police do not file the charges. They simply provide reports and evidence to the prosecuting attorney, who then decides whether or not charges should be filed, and if so, what charges. The Charging Document
Prosecution is generally understood as the initiation of formal charges against a person for the purpose of adjudicating the person’s guilt of innocence. In Colorado, a prosecution for a felony may be commenced by anyone of the following:
- the return of an indictment by a grand jury;
- the filing of an information in district court by the district attorney; or
- the filing of a felony complaint in county court by the district attorney.
Although a misdemeanor or petty offense may be prosecuted in district court by indictment or information, the usual practice is to prosecute such charges in the county court by complaint or by summons and complaint issued under special, simplified procedures. First Appearance/Arraignment and Entry of Plea
Arraignment is the formal act of calling the defendant into open court, informing the defendant of the offense with which the defendant is charged, and the defendant’s entering a plea to the charge. Bail is often set during the arraignment. Bail is used by the court almost like an "insurance policy" that you will appear on future court dates. The amount of bail is determined by the judge. The judge will look to two factors in deciding bail: your risk of flight and whether you pose a danger to the community. Bail amounts can range from being released on your own recognizance, all the way up to millions of dollars. In some cases no bail is allowed. Preliminary Hearing
The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to review probable cause. It is screening device that affords the defendant an opportunity to challenge the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence to establish probable cause before an impartial judge. As a screening device, the preliminary hearing is designed to weed out groundless or unsupported charges and ensures that the prosecution can at least sustain the burden of proving probable cause.
In 1998, Colorado eliminated the right to demand and receive a preliminary hearing in all classes of felonies. Persons charged with a class 1, 2, or 3 felony are entitled to demand and receive a preliminary hearing. However, persons charged with a class 4, 5, or 6 felony are not entitled to demand and receive a preliminary hearing unless: 1) the felony charged is one that requires mandatory sentencing or is a statutory crime of violence; 2) the defendant is charged with a sexual offense; or 3) the defendant remains in custody for the offense for which the preliminary hearing is requested.Pre-trial Conference
At the pre-trial conference, the defense attorney discusses the case with the prosecuting attorney and often may include the judge in this process. This is a good opportunity to speak with the prosecution in order to obtain the best possible deal, or plea-bargain. It also allows the defense attorney to provide information which may prove your innocence.Trial
During the jury trial you are entitled to have a jury of twelve impartial jurors. Both the defense attorney and the prosecuting attorney have an opportunity to make opening statements, introduce witnesses and evidence in favor of their case, cross-examine witnesses and offer closing arguments. During the deliberation phase of the case, the jury decides whether the prosecution has met the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury finds you not guilty, you are free to go and not subject to further prosecution based on the same offenses.Sentencing
If you are found guilty, the sentencing hearing is where the judge determines and imposes the appropriate punishment. You may be sentenced to probation instead of a term in state prison. Different crimes carry different possible penalties. You are entitled to a sentencing hearing to propose why you believe the judge should give you the lowest possible penalty.Collateral Consequences
In addition to any sentence imposed by the court, conviction can have a number of additional consequences. In felony cases, these consequences can include, but are not limited to: loss of the right to vote, loss of the right to possess a firearm, loss of the right to associate with other known criminals, registration as a sexual offender, registration as a narcotics offender, or increased penalties for future convictions.Appeals
If convicted, you may file an appeal to an appellate level court with the argument that the trial court made legal errors. If the defense can prove that the trial court made legal errors, or you were denied due process of law or a fair trial, it may result in the reversal of your conviction.Parole
Parole is a conditional release from prison which entitles you to serve the remainder of your term outside of prison. However, you are still under the supervision of the department of corrections.Expungement
Expungement is a process where, in some cases, your conviction may be removed from your record.