Colorado criminal cases can be complex and overwhelming. Trying to learn the procedures and vocabulary with so much on the line might cause stress that could be detrimental to your case. Understanding the procedure of a criminal case is essential to your defense strategy.
While this article provides the general steps to Colorado criminal cases, it should be noted that Colorado has twenty-two judicial districts that each have their own nuances in handling criminal cases.
Arrest or Summons
At this stage, someone is either arrested and booked in jail or given a summons ordering that they appear in court because they are alleged to have committed a crime.
Bail and Bond
Within 48 hours after being arrested, the accused will be brought before a judicial officer (a judge or magistrate) for a hearing (sometimes called a “bail” or “bond” hearing). The purpose of bail/bond and the posting of any bail is for the court system to assure the accused appears at all their future court appearances.
The judge will decide whether (1) the accused will be given bail/bond and (2) what the conditions of bail/bond will be. The judge will hear arguments from the prosecution, the defendant/accused, and any victim (if there is a victim of the alleged crime).
The judge will then consider many factors such as:
- Criminal history
- Whether the accused has ever failed to appear in a previous case
- Seriousness of the allegation
- Flight risk of the accused (community ties, employment, etc.)
Finally, the judge will then issue the bond conditions, which can include (but are not limited to):
- Posting a sum amount of money (including whether the amount can be posted with cash, property, and/or by a surety such as a bondsman).
- Restrictions on travel.
- Restrictions on substance use.
- Participation in pretrial services, such as sobriety monitoring.
- Restrictions on firearms.
During advisement (sometimes held with the bond hearing), the court will assure the defendant understands certain rights (right to an attorney, presumption of innocence, etc.), the charges against them, and the possible penalties.
Certain Colorado crimes and situations entitle the defendant to a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is an evidentiary hearing where the court must determine if there is probable cause that the defendant committed the alleged crime(s). In the preliminary hearing, the judge does not decide guilt or innocence, but only if there is enough probable cause for the case to move forward. Preliminary hearings are conducted for felony level offenses only.
In some situations, a defendant may choose to “waive” the preliminary hearing. That is usually done so that negotiations can remain ongoing between the District Attorney and Defense Attorney. Some District Attorneys will revoke plea negotiations if a defendant proceeds with a preliminary hearing. “Waiving” a preliminary hearing does not mean that the defendant is pleading guilty. Instead, it means that the defendant is agreeing that there is enough probable cause for the case to move forward. The defendant’s right to accept a plea deal, have the case dismissed, or go to trial are still all available.
Pretrial Conference/Disposition Hearing
A pretrial conference or disposition hearing is a time for the prosecution and defendant (through their attorney) to discuss the case, any issues with discovery or investigations, and negotiate any potential plea bargain.
An arraignment is similar to the pretrial conference/disposition hearing; however, this is the stage in a case where the defendant enters their “not guilty” plea, and the case is scheduled for a future jury trial. An important aspect of these hearings is that when a defendant enters a “not guilty” plea, this triggers the start of a speedy trial. In Colorado, a defendant must have their trial held within six months of entering a “not guilty” plea. Setting a case for trial does not necessarily mean a person will go to trial. Negotiations and plea agreements are generally still allowed leading up to the day of trial.
If a plea bargain is not reached, the case is set for a jury trial. Prior to the jury trial, the court will hold a motions hearing. This is a hearing where any pretrial motions will be argued and decided. The most common pretrial motions are motions to suppress illegally obtained evidence and motions to obtain rulings on the admission of evidence at the upcoming trial.
This is the final proceeding where the prosecutor bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed each element of the crime they have been charged with. In Colorado, jury trials can end in acquittal, guilty, or hung. For an acquittal or guilty verdict, all members of the jury must unanimously agree. A hung jury means that the jury members were unable to reach a unanimous decision. After a hung jury, the prosecution will re-try the case to a new jury, dismiss the case, or make a new plea offer.
A sentencing hearing is held if a defendant is found guilty or enters a plea of guilty (or pleads no contest). At sentencing, the judge will consider arguments from the prosecution, defendant, any victims, and any presentence reports.
The criminal defense attorneys at Burnham Law are responsive and effective. On a daily basis, Burnham Law can be found in Colorado courts fighting for their clients. Through litigation experience and personalized strategies, we obtain the plea offers while receiving a high percentage of ‘not guilty’ verdicts for the cases that go to trial. Schedule your consultation today.