The Process

Navigate your way through a criminal case in Colorado

A series of decisions

District attorneys are just one of many decision makers in Colorado’s highly-individualized criminal justice system. At each of the numerous decision points throughout the process, everyone involved in a criminal case is considered as DAs, judges and citizens seek the most just and appropriate response.

Charging

Law enforcement, district attorneys, judges and citizens make decisions that determine if a criminal case moves forward. 

Proceedings

Before, during and after a trial, the defendant can plead guilty while the judge and/or jury makes decisions on their case.

Release

There are a variety of ways that an individual convicted of a criminal offense can earn or be granted release into the community.

Scene of the Crime

1.  Criminal Act

A crime is committed and reported to law enforcement. If this occurs in the presence of a law enforcement officer, an individual may be arrested or served with a summons to appear in court immediately at the scene.

2.  Investigation

Law enforcement officers investigate the crime by collecting evidence, interviewing victims/witnesses and questioning suspects.

Law Enforcement Decision

At the scene, officers can choose to take no action until further investigation is done, arrest a suspect or serve them with a summons to appear in court.

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If law enforcement fails to identify a suspect, the investigation continues. If it is determined there is not enough evidence to establish probable cause, no arrest is made at the time.

If there is probable cause to suspect that an individual committed the crime, they can be arrested, taken to jail for booking and their case is reported to the district attorney.

Summons

If there is probable cause to suspect than an individual committed a misdemeanor offense, they can be released and served with a summons listing their charges and court date.

District Attorney Decision

In every criminal case, it is the district attorney who has the ultimate say on pursuing criminal charges.

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No Charges

If the evidence doesn't prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the case is dropped.

Grand Jury

The DA refers the case to a group of citizens who determine if there is probable cause for trial.

Pre-file Diversion

The defendant is referred to rehabilitation and charges are dropped after successful completion.

Misdemeanor

For minor criminal offenses, the case is filed in county court where the defendant can be sentenced to jail.

Felony

For the most serious offenses, the case is filed in district court where the defendant can be sentenced to prison.

Grand Jury Decision

The grand jury determines whether or not there is enough probable cause to proceed to a trial.

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If the judge or grand jury determines that there is not enough probable cause to move forward with a trial, the case is dismissed. The district attorney, however, still has the decision to file charges.

If the judge or grand jury determines that there is enough probable cause to move forward with a trial, an indictment is handed down. It is still up to the district attorney, however, whether or not to file charges.

Judge Decision

In a preliminary hearing, the judge determines whether or not there is enough probable cause to proceed to a trial.

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If the judge determines that there is not enough probable cause to move forward with a trial, the case is dismissed. The district attorney, however, still has the option of referring the case to a grand jury.

If the judge determines that there is enough probable cause to move forward with a trial, an indictment is handed down. It is still up to the district attorney, however, whether or not to file charges.

Advisement & Arraignment

1.  First Advisement Hearing

The accused goes before a judge where they are formally notified of their rights, charges for which they are being investigated for and bond conditions based on their alleged offense, criminal history and ties to the community.

2.  Second Advisement Hearing

The accused goes before a judge who advises the defendant of the formal charges filed against them. In this proceeding or a later “bond hearing”, arguments can be made to change conditions for bond.

3.  Plea & Setting Hearing

The accused submits a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty” to the filed charges and the judge schedules future proceedings.

Defendant Decision

During arraignment, the defendant has the power to decide how to proceed with their case by entering a plea.

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Pretrial Proceedings

1.  Disposition Hearing

The prosecutor(s) and defense attorney(s) can discuss potential resolutions to the case without going to trial. This can also occur during the preliminary hearing or be waived by the defendant. The defendant can change their plea to “guilty” voluntarily or through a plea agreement.

2.  Motion Hearings

The prosecutor(s) and defense attorney(s) request the court make a determination on an aspect of the case. Both sides present oral arguments to the judge who determines whether or not to grant each request. The defendant has another opportunity to change their plea to guilty voluntarily or through a plea agreement.

3.  Pre-Trial Conference

The court, prosecutor(s) and the defendant or their defense attorney(s) meet to resolve any issues before trial or to discuss a plea bargain. The defendant has another opportunity to change their plea to guilty voluntarily or through a plea agreement.

Judge / Jury Decision

During a trial, the prosecution and defense present evidence and oral arguments to a judge or jury who determine the verdict of whether or not the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Not Guilty

The judge or jury believes the prosecution failed to prove during the trial that the defendant is guilty of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

The defendant is found to have committed the crime but lacked intent due to a mental illness or impairment.

Hung Jury

If the jury can't unanimously agree on a verdict, a mistrial is declared. The DA can determine whether or not to pursue a new trial under a new jury.

Guilty

The judge or jury believes the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed all or some of the charges.

Judge Decision

After the defendant has been determined guilty by plea or verdict, a sentencing hearing is held where the judge determines their sentence.

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Sentenced to a term of incarceration less than the time they have already served in jail while awaiting trial, the defendant is released from custody and granted unconditional release to the community.

Under supervision, the defendant is granted release to the community. Failure to comply with specific terms determined by the judge can result in the defendant serving the remainder of their parole period in custody.

The defendant is given the opportunity to have their conviction and sentence cleared by successfully completing a term of supervision. Failure to comply can result in resentencing.

The defendant is released from custody and sentenced to a term of supervision within their residence, often under electronic monitoring. Violating conditions set by the judge can result in resentencing.

Unless their crime of conviction mandates prison, the defendant is referred to a community rehabilitation program where they are supervised and provided with treatment resources.

The defendant is sentenced to a period of incarceration in a state correctional facility. The judge determines the length of their sentence within the range set by the state legislature for the crime(s) of conviction.

Department of Corrections Decision

If a defendant is convicted and sentenced to prison, they are temporarily housed at the Denver Reception & Diagnostic Center where they undergo physical and mental evaluations to determine within 30 days the most appropriate location for them to serve their sentence.

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Under supervision in a nonresidential setting, the defendant is placed in the state’s Intensive Supervision Parole Program (ISP) alongside people who have been released from prison.

The defendant is referred to a community rehabilitation program where they are supervised, provided with treatment resources and have the opportunity to work in the community.

The defendant is placed in a state prison facility with the most appropriate security level. There are five levels from Level I having no fencing to Level V requiring double, razor-wire fencing and detection devices. 

Defendant Decision

After being convicted in a trial, the defendant can choose to file a motion, appeal the decision or accept the sentence.

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File a Motion

The defendant can file a motion for a new trial based on inadequate representation or for reconsideration of their sentence.

Appeal

If the defendant believes their constitutional right to a fair trial was violated, they can appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Federal Writ

After all state appeals have been exhausted, the defendant can file a writ of habeas corpus in federal court.

Accept Sentence

By choice or once all motions, appeals and writs have been exhausted, the defendant serves their sentence.

Accused/Defendant Released

There are multiple ways throughout the process for the accused/defendant to be released:

No Arrest

Law enforcement releases a suspect due to lack of probable cause or issues them with a summons to appear in court.

No Charges

No charges are filed due to a lack of evidence, likelihood of losing a trial or doing so isn't in the public's interest.

Dismissal

There is insufficient evidence to proceed to a trial at the time but charges can be reinstated at a later date.

No Indictment

A grand jury dismisses charges if a lack of probable cause results in "no true bill" but they can still be filed by the DA.

Diversion

The defendant is referred to a rehabilitation program instead of prison but must meet the program's requirements.

Acquittal

A judge or jury finds the defendant not guilty of all charges in a trial. The case is closed and can't be tried by the DA again.

Relief/Appeal

The presiding judge or a higher court overturns the defendant's original guilty verdict and/or the sentence imposed.

Probation

The judge releases the convicted individual under supervision and instates restrictions on them for a period of time.

Community Corrections

The convicted individual is transferred or sentenced to a community program where they are supervised.

Parole

After serving all or part of their sentence, the convicted individual is granted release under specific conditions.

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Court Functions, case management and hearing procedures will vary by jurisdiction. Click here to find the most current directives or polices in your jurisdiction.