Felony Criminal Cases in Colorado
Felony cases range in seriousness from first-degree through sixth-degree. You'll often hear them referred to as "F5" or "F6," etc. The lower the number, the more serious the offense. For example first-degree murder is an F1, or first-degree felony. For more information about the possible penalties associated with each degree, please visit our felony sentencing page.
If you are charged with a felony in Colorado, your criminal case will proceed in the following manner:
The Filing of Charges
The defendant is required to appear in court in order to formally receive the charges against him. The judge will also advise the defendant of his rights, set a bond amount in the case, and set the next court appearance. Your criminal defense attorney will argue on your behalf to lower the bond amount that has been set.
The Preliminary Hearing
If the defendant is charged with a more serious felony (F3 and above), he will be entitled to a Preliminary Hearing. At this hearing, the judge must decide if there is sufficient probable cause to move the case into District Court. The prosecutor must present evidence that shows it is more likely than not that a crime occurred, and that you, the defendant, are guilty. It is absolutely crucial that you have a lawyer present at this hearing. Your lawyer will cross examine the witnesses that are testifying against you, and may uncover critical inconsistencies that can help you down the road at trial. In addition, your lawyer will help you make important decisions - decisions that will greatly effect your case later on.
The Disposition Hearing
For less serious felony cases (F4-F6), when you are not entitled to a Preliminary Hearing, your second court appearance will probably be a Disposition Hearing. This may be your defense attorney's first chance to talk to the District Attorney about a possible plea agreement. It is dangerous for the defendant to talk directly with the District Attorney. Your lawyer will protect you from making statements to the prosecutor that will hurt you later, as well as keep you from forming a negative impression with the District Attorney that will make them unwilling to be reasonable later on in your case.
If the judge decides at the Preliminary Hearing that there is probable cause to "bind the case over," the case will be set for Arraignment. At this stage, the defendant must plead not guilty in order to preserve the right to go forward with his defense, and have a jury trial. The court will again advise the defendant of his rights.
The defendant should never waive his right to a jury trial. A jury trial is, like it sounds, before a jury. Whereas a "court trial" is a trial to the judge. It is always better for the defendant to have a trial by jury. The courts and the judges typically prefer court trials since they take a lot less time. However, it's your life that's at stake. Don't waive your right to a jury trial, and be sure to pay your jury trial fee on time when required.
As your case progresses, there may be issues that must be resolved by the judge. Depending upon the case, your lawyer may try to prevent the use of some or all of the evidence against you by filing motions. This often occurs in cases where your Federal or Colorado Constitutional Rights have been violated. The motions may seek to exclude from trial such things as physical evidence, or your statements to the police. Your defense attorney may also file motions asking the judge to force the prosecutor to release evidence or information that you will need for your defense. In some cases, this may be evidence of your innocence. Your lawyer will have a chance to win these issues at the pretrial hearing.
Sentencing: If the defendant pleads guilty, or loses his case at trial, the court must issue a sentence in the case. It is not uncommon for this to happen months after the date the defendant is convicted. During the time between the conviction and the sentencing, the probation department in your county may be instructed to write a pre-sentence investigation report or "PSI." Your lawyer can work with the local probation department in order to reach outcomes other than being sent to prison or jail.
To view the Colorado sentencing guide, please see our information about sentencing.