The Colorado Criminal Court Process

Have you been charged with a criminal offense?

If so, it’s important that you understand how the Colorado criminal court process works as this will better help you appreciate why you need qualified representation.
As you’re about to see, trying to manage the process on your own is going to be difficult and you cannot afford to risk a negative outcome.

The Colorado Criminal Court Process

Although every situation is different, the following list of steps for the Colorado criminal court process will help you better understand what to expect if you’re currently facing charges.

Summons

The Colorado criminal court process begins with the summons. This can be filed by a prosecutor or a police officer. If you do not respond to a summons, a warrant for your arrest will be issued.

In either case, a summons is exactly that: a document which summons you to court because you’re being charged with a crime. It will tell you where to appear and when to defend against the complaint. If you fail to do so, a judgment by default may be filed against you.

The summons will also list the name of the court and tell you the county in Colorado from which the action was brought.

Lastly, the summons will tell you who the plaintiff is and give you the name, address, and registration number for their attorney. If they don’t have an attorney, the summons will list the address for the plaintiff instead.

Arrest and Bond

Technically, a summons qualifies as a “non-custodial” arrest, as opposed to a “custodial” arrest, which is the kind most people think of – when police handcuff someone and take them into custody.

However, in the case of a custodial arrest, the next step will be to secure your release by posting bail. This is the amount of money the court decides you must put in escrow with them. It is returned when you comply with the summons and show up to court. If you don’t, you forfeit the money.

You can either do this with a cash bond for the full amount or by hiring a bondsman who will post the amount for you. This almost always comes with a non-refundable fee.

Another option is to post bond with a secured asset, like real estate.

In some cases in Colorado, the police may release you with just a personal recognizance bond (also called an “unsecured bond”). This doesn’t require putting down any money, but you will have to sign paperwork attesting to your intention to show up to court. The court may also allow a co-signed personal recognizance, whereby someone else promises you will appear.

If you’ve been charged with a violent crime, you will not be released until your appearance on a bond hearing in Colorado. This will be in front of a judge. At this time, you may also be given other conditions for you release such as:

  • Drug/Alcohol Monitoring
  • Evaluation
  • No-Contact Orders
  • Pretrial Supervision
  • Treatment

Advisement

During your first court appearance, you will receive an advisement hearing in Colorado. This just means that you will be formally advised of the charges brought against you. That includes an explanation of what penalties you’ll face if you are convicted.

The advisement hearing in Colorado is often confused with an arraignment, which we will cover shortly.

Preliminary Hearing

If you’ve been charged with a Class 1, 2, or 3 Felony in Colorado, you’ll face mandatory minimum sentencing, which means you will absolutely face prison time if found guilty.

This entitles you to a preliminary hearing. The same is true if you’re charged with a felony while already in custody or if you’re charged with a Class 4, 5, or 6 Felony that is especially serious.

Sometimes, this step is referred to as a “show cause” hearing because it’s when the prosecutor must show the court that there is probable cause for charging someone with a crime.

Keep in mind that this isn’t actually a trial. The prosecution faces a much lower burden of proof. All they have to do is prove that there’s enough of a chance that you committed the crime you’re accused of to proceed with the rest of the Colorado criminal court process. Nonetheless, witnesses may still be called.

You can also challenge evidence at this time. However, depending on your case, your attorney may recommend that you skip the preliminary hearing altogether. Again, the prosecution has such a low standard they need to meet that you generally stand little chance of winning. It can also be a tactical error that will hurt your case later.

Disposition Hearing

If you’re charged with a Class 4 felony or something lower, you will probably proceed next to a disposition hearing. A disposition hearing for a felony in Colorado usually occurs within 30 to 45 days after that initial appearance.

That’s because the court wants to give the prosecution and defense sufficient time to come to a plea agreement.

If that doesn’t occur, the date for your trial will be set at this time.

Arraignment

It’s at this point in the Colorado criminal court process that you will be asked to enter a plea of not guilty or guilty. The reason why so many people confuse it with an advisement is because you will receive further information at this point about the charges you face and the potential penalties they entail.

You can also enter a plea of no contest. In terms of potential sentences, these two pleas are the same. However, your lawyer may recommend you make a plea of no contest as it will not have the same binding effect as a guilty plea would in civil proceedings.

Pre-Trial Hearing or Pre-Trial Conference

Between your arraignment and the motions hearing in Colorado, there may be various court appearances.

In the case of pre-trial conferences, it’s an opportunity for those with misdemeanors to negotiate with the prosecution.

Note: pre-trial conferences are a good example of why it’s so important to hire a competent attorney. You don’t want to speak to the prosecution by yourself as you could unknowingly say something that ends up hurting your case.

Motions Hearing

Almost every case that is set for trial will be preceded by a motions hearing in Colorado. This is when a judge will listen to your motions and rule on them.

One example of a common motion by the defense would be asking the judge to rule on evidence that was obtained without a warrant. Another one would be a motion to prevent statements from being heard that you made to police before being advised of your right to remain silent.

Trial

Finally, the Colorado criminal court process enters into the actual trial. Depending on the charges, your case may be heard by a judge or a judge and jury. Anyone charged with a misdemeanor is entitled to a trial by a jury made up of six people. If you’re charged with a felony, Colorado law increases the number of jurors to 12.

In either case, the judge or jury will be charged with deciding if you are innocent or guilty of the charges brought against you. If you face more than one charge, you may be found innocent of some but not others.

If you are having a jury trial, there will also be a step prior to that called “jury selection.” Essentially, the prosecution and defense need to come to an agreement about who will serve on the jury.

The basic sequence for a jury trial in Colorado then looks like this:

  • Opening Statements by Both Sides
  • Presentation of Witnesses and Evidence
  • Closing Arguments by Both Sides
  • The Judge’s Instructions on the Law to the Jury
  • Deliberation and Decision

While a jury is generally advisable, there are some times when it may actually make more sense to request a judge and waive a jury instead. An experienced attorney will know when this is the right idea. This is often recommended to people who have lengthy criminal records as a judge may do a better job of weighing the evidence whereas a jury may be more likely to assume guilt right away.

Sentencing

Unless you are found not guilty, the final step in the Colorado criminal court process will be sentencing. This is when the judge announces what they have decided what your punishment will be. Their options are limited to what Colorado law designates for each conviction.

Sentencing is also a hearing, though, as your defense attorney and the prosecution can both make arguments to the judge for what they think your punishment should be. Your attorney will bring up reasons it should be as low as reasonably possible while the prosecution will push in the opposite direction.

Don’t Go Through the Colorado Criminal Court Process Alone

As you can probably tell, though the Colorado criminal court process is designed with the assumption of innocence, it’s still extremely complicated for those who aren’t trained lawyers.

This is why you shouldn’t go through it alone. Instead, let Geman Criminal Defense represent you during this challenging time. We offer a free initial consultation and walk you through all of your options so you feel comfortable moving forward.