Answers to the most common questions about the criminal justice system

Questions answered

As part of our commitment to educating and providing information to everyone on the criminal justice system in Colorado, our team of legal experts has compiled answers to the most frequently asked questions in our line of work.


The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council (CDAC) is a statewide organization representing the district attorneys for all 22 of Colorado’s judicial districts.

CDAC promotes, fosters and encourages an effective administration of criminal justice in Colorado. We provide centralized prosecution-related services to the state’s district attorneys, including training of personnel, legislative drafting and liaison, legal research, management assistance, case tracking data and safeguarding, dissemination of data to other criminal justice agencies, and other special programs.

Tom Raynes is the Executive Director for CDAC, serving at the pleasure of the 22 district attorneys that make up the organization’s board of directors.

District attorneys across Colorado fund CDAC through money allocated by their respective county commissioners. Additional funding is received for specific programming from state and federal grants.

The CDAC policy team has over 120 years of prosecution experience and access to the state’s foremost experts from every aspect of the criminal justice system. It is CDAC’s responsibility to utilize these assets to promote community health and safety in legislative matters and represent the shared interests of the state’s district attorneys at the Capitol.

No, the CDAC policy team only represents the state’s district attorneys in legislative matters.

Trainings provided by CDAC and its programs include legal updates, constitutional rights and best practices in prosecution and law enforcement. 

Criminal cases in Colorado are prosecuted by the district attorney in their respective judicial district, but CDAC’s legal experts will provide assistance and consultation or serve as a special prosecutor on specific criminal cases when it is requested by the local DA’s office.

No, all complaints against district attorneys in Colorado are handled by the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel. To file a complaint, contact the OARC by calling 303-457-5800 or toll-free at 877-888-1370.


District attorneys – or DAs – are dedicated public servants charged with seeking the truth and pursuing justice under the law on criminal matters that occur in their jurisdiction. The title includes both the elected DA and the prosecutors in their office.

To be eligible to run for district attorney in Colorado, candidates must meet the same qualifications of district court judges. They must be licensed to practice law in Colorado for five years, a qualified elector of the judicial district at the time of their election or appointment and reside in the district throughout their term in office.

Depending on the local population and funding, district attorney offices in Colorado vary greatly when it comes to resources. The number of prosecutors in a jurisdiction varies from as little as three to over 100.

The state only provides funding for up to 80% of the elected district attorney’s salary. The remaining salary, other staff positions and all resources in the office are funded locally by the counties in each respective jurisdiction. Office budgets are allocated by each district’s county commissioners.

District attorneys, assistant DAs, chief deputy DAs, special deputy DAs and special prosecutors are categorized as peace officers. Although their authority includes the enforcement of all laws of the state and they work cooperatively with local law enforcement agencies in criminal investigations, DAs serve as a check on the discretion of law enforcement and ensure the protection of the accused’s constitutional rights.

Ask your attorney or contact the district attorney’s office for the judicial district where you have been investigated or charged with a crime.

If you are a victim of a crime or other interested party, you can contact the victim advocate or administrative personnel at the district attorney’s office in the judicial district where the crime occurred.

With very limited exceptions, the district attorney has the final say in all criminal cases within their jurisdiction.

Yes, complaints against prosecutors in Colorado are handled by the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel. To file a complaint, contact the OARC by calling 303-457-5800 or toll-free at 877-888-1370.

Law FAQs

A criminal case involves an offense against the general public interests of a state and, as such, is prosecuted by an attorney representing the state (e.g., municipality, county, state, nation). Civil cases involve legal disputes between two individuals or private parties.

There are six types of courts in the Colorado criminal justice system – municipal courts, water courts, county courts, district courts, the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court. District attorneys prosecute misdemeanor cases in county court and felony cases in district court.

In Colorado, people convicted and incarcerated for felony crimes are sentenced to state prison for at least one year. Those incarcerated for misdemeanor offenses serve a sentence of up to 18 months in a county jail.

District attorneys in Colorado have the sole authority in deciding what charges to file or if to file them.

A defendant in Colorado is determined to be competent to proceed with trial unless they are unable to understand the criminal process they are involved in due to a mental or developmental issue. Insanity involves the defendant’s mental capacity at the time the crime was committed. A defendant can be found “not guilty by reason of insanity” if they were unable to tell right from wrong or control their behavior at the time of the crime due to a mental defect or impairment.

With the exception of higher-level felonies, the court can issue the accused with a summons listing the charges being filed and their date appear in court. This is an alternative to arresting and booking  a suspect who isn’t deemed a risk to flee or a threat to the safety of the victim or general public.

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