Felony Charges

Hopkins Law handles all felony cases.

Felony offenses in Colorado include:
*Please see our Dictionary Of Criminal Charges section to better understand these offenses

Colorado Felony Charges

In Colorado, felony charges are categorized into six classes. Class one felonies, e.g. first degree murder, are considered the most serious. They carry the most significant penalties. Class six felonies, e.g. criminal impersonation, are considered the least serious and carry much smaller penalties. Felony charges should not be taken lightly – a felony conviction carries possible prison time. Even a class six felony conviction may require a minimum of one year in prison.

Most felony charges fall within classes two through five. Determining whether your charge is a felony, and if so, which class, is not as simple as looking at a criminal charges list. Categorizing it often depends on the facts of your case. Assault, for example, can qualify as a felony or a misdemeanor. A criminal trail attorney will help you understand the charges brought against you.

The Best Criminal Defense Advice: Know Your Rights

The United States and Colorado constitutions provide you with basic rights relating to criminal prosecutions. Since the felony legal process can be complex and confusing, the best way to protect yourself if you are charged with a crime is to know your rights. Knowing what to expect and knowing when you need to contact an attorney is the only way to ensure fair treatment.

Although not your only important constitutional rights, three of these rights are especially important when being investigated for a crime: (1) the right to privacy, which affects how and when the police can detain you, search you, or search your car or your house; (2) the right to remain silent when you are being investigated; and (3) the right to counsel once you have been arrested or charged.

Your Felony Case – Understanding the Process

The following is a step-by-step description of the most common parts of a felony case. The corresponding information advises you on how to protect your constitutional rights. Part of our job as criminal trial attorneys is helping the accused understand how the law works.

  • STOPS AND SEARCHES – The police can stop you and search you under the right circumstances. This may occur during a traffic stop or while you are walking down the street. The police can also search your home. However, the United States and Colorado constitutions protect us from “unreasonable” searches. Figuring out whether a stop or a search is illegal depends on the facts of your case.But, keep in mind that stops and searches mean the police are looking for evidence to use against you if you are charged with a crime. If the police ask your permission to search your car or your person or your house, say “no”. Sometimes police will present you with a search warrant – a document signed by a judge allowing the police to search a specific place, like your car or home. If this is the case, you must consent to a search.

    If the police do not show you a warrant, then do not consent to a search. An officer may have been kind and polite, but that does not mean you have to consent to a search.

    You never have to answer any questions the police ask. Be polite, and ask the officer if you are under arrest. If the officer says you are not under arrest, ask the officer if you can be on your way. Sometimes the officer is trying to keep you talking hoping you will say something that makes you appear guilty. Do not answer any more questions; just keep asking if you are under arrest and if you can leave. If the police will not let you leave, then politely say, “I want an attorney”.

  • ARREST – The difference between a “stop” and an “arrest” is sometimes very small, but often has important implications for your case. Sometimes an arrest is found to have occurred even though the person was never taken to the police station and booked. Whether or not an arrest occurred depends on the facts of each case.If it is an arrest, certain constitutional protections are activated at the moment of arrest. The police are supposed to tell you about your rights – often called Mirandizing the arrested person – the moment they arrest you. The officer should say something like, “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can be used against you in a court of law, you have the right to an attorney, and if you are indigent the court will appoint an attorney to represent you.” These rights are meant to protect you from unfair treatment by police when you do not have attorney.

    Remember, the best criminal defense advice we can give you (at this stage at least) is that you do not have to answer any questions and that you can request an attorney. In fact, immediately telling the police you want an attorney and then not speaking is the best way to protect yourself. The only thing you should say to the police is, “I want an attorney.”

  • BOOKING – Booking occurs following an arrest and almost always before felony charges are filed. The police take you to a station. You will be asked a series of questions, fingerprinted, photographed, searched and all your personal possessions will be catalogued and stored until your release. Although this administrative procedure seems innocent enough, it is actually a dangerous time for someone who has been arrested, but not charged. At this point you are only a suspect but answers to even some of the most innocent questions may make you appear guilty. Further, standard booking questions are exempt from the Miranda requirements noted above. For instance, age is an important element of some crimes and you will be asked your age during booking. Depending on what crime you are ultimately charged with, you might have just helped the government prove part of the crime. If at all possible you should have an attorney present during booking. Ask a friend to call an attorney or ask the police for a phone call before you are booked.
  • INVESTIGATION VS PROSECUTION – In every felony case, the district attorney decides if there is enough evidence to support a prosecution. A police investigation usually leads up to this point. The investigation can be a stop, search or arrest as discussed above. However, the police sometimes investigate a person in secret until they have enough evidence to support an arrest warrant or search warrant. If you think you are being investigated, you should contact an attorney immediately. The investigation is a pivotal time. If the police cannot find enough evidence, the district attorney will not file charges against you. An attorney can help protect your rights during the investigation.
  • FILING OF CHARGES – Once the district attorney decides to file charges, they can file a document titled “Information and Complaint” alleging facts that amount to the commission of a crime. The district attorney can also file charges based on a grand jury indictment – where a jury determines if there is enough evidence to support the charges – but this is rare. Felony charges are usually filed by information and complaint.
  • ARRAIGNMENT AND ENTRY OF PLEA – Following arrest and booking, the court must conduct an arraignment in open court. The purpose of the arraignment is to formally inform you of your charges and for you to enter a plea. The judge will ask you if you wish to enter a plea. You should never enter a plea without first talking to an attorney about your case. Inform the judge that you need to retain counsel and the judge will usually postpone your plea entry.

    There are different pleas you can enter: (1) “Guilty” which means you admit to the facts of the crime and that you are the one who committed the crime; (2) “Not Guilty” which means you deny that you committed the crime; and (3) “No Contest” which means that you do not admit guilt, but you will not dispute the charge. If you are forced to enter a plea before you have consulted an attorney, enter a plea of “Not Guilty” and then consult an attorney as soon as possible.

    If you are in jail at the time of your arraignment, the judge should set bail, deny bail, or release you on your own recognizance – meaning the court takes your word that you will return for your next court date. If the judge does not say anything about bail, just request that bail be set or that you be released on your own recognizance. Be careful though. Anything you say to the court regarding bail can be used against you.

  • BAIL AND BOND – Obviously, you do not want to spend any more time in jail than necessary. Aside from the personal inconvenience, statistics show that a person’s chances of lenient treatment at sentencing are reduced significantly when they have prolonged jail stays. In jail, you are constantly monitored and the chance that you do or say something that harms your defense increases. It is also easier for the police to persistently question you. Answers under pressure might hurt your case. You need to get out of jail as fast as possible. While awaiting trial, everyone can get out of jail on bail with limited exceptions. Bail is the amount of money paid to the court for your release while you await trial. The money will be returned once your case ends – assuming you have not violated the terms of your bail. This generally means you have been present at all required court dates.

    Bail can be paid with cash or by pledging real property (land or house titles) to the court. If you cannot afford bail, your attorney can file a motion to reduce your bail or release you on your own recognizance. As a last resort you may have to use a bail bondsman – someone who is licensed by the state and who will pledge their property to cover your bail.

    The benefit of using a bondsman is that they accept forms of payment the court will not accept including personal checks, car titles and other valuables. However, you will pay up to 15% of your bail amount as a fee. You will never get this money back. Regardless of your financial situation, getting out of jail quickly is nearly as important as retaining a criminal trial attorney for your case.

  • PRE-TRIAL AND THE RIGHT TO A SPEEDY TRIAL – Pretrial is the time after you are charged, but before your criminal court case begins. Everyone has the right to a speedy trial. Colorado law requires that a trial begin no more than six months after entry of a not guilty plea. If the speedy trial deadline is violated the case must be dismissed. However, there are exceptions to the six month requirement that could allow your trial to be delayed even more. You can also agree to waive your right to a speedy trial. Sometimes – depending on your case – your attorney will advise that waiving speedy trial is in your best interest. During the six months before your trial, you will work with your attorney to review the evidence, pursue opportunities to have the criminal court case dismissed, possibly file motions to exclude certain evidence, litigate the motions hearings, and negotiate the possibility of a plea agreement.

    Your attorney will help you make these important decisions as well as whether to accept a plea agreement, take your case to trial, whether to testify at trial, and what strategy to use at trial.

  • PRELIMINARY HEARING – A preliminary hearing is available to all persons charged with a class one, two or three felony and, under special circumstances, for lower felonies. A preliminary hearing determines if the government has enough evidence to show probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and to believe that the person charged is the person who committed the crime. This is different from trial, where the district attorney has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. Your attorney must request a preliminary hearing within 10 days of your plea entry or you will have waived your right to the hearing.As a general rule, a preliminary hearing is a good way to protect your rights. You learn about the government’s case against you. If the government does not have enough evidence, having the case dismissed is a possibility.
  • PLEA AGREEMENT VS TRIAL – One of the most important decisions your criminal trial attorney will help you make is whether to take your case to trial or accept a plea agreement. Taking your case to trial can be a risky proposition, but sometimes it is the right decision. Every case is different. Although a plea agreement is offered in almost every case, the district attorney is not obligated to do so.The plea agreement is like a contract, stating that if you agree to accept the listed punishment, your case will be over and your sentence will begin. Generally, to encourage acceptance and avoid the risk of losing at trial, a plea agreement provides a benefit – like letting you plead to a lesser crime with lower penalties. Many factors can impact a plea agreement decision. Your attorney will help you consider all of them. Sometimes it is worth accepting and sometimes it is not a fair offer. Your attorney can always press the district attorney for a better offer, but if a fair plea agreement cannot be reached, trial may be your best option.
  • TRIAL – Every phase of the felony legal process is vitally important, but trial is where the rubber meets the road. This is where all the pretrial preparations and strategy come together. In a felony case you have the right to a jury trial. You can waive your right to a jury trial, but your attorney must file a written waiver. To be found guilty by a jury there must be a unanimous verdict – not even one juror can disagree. Colorado law provides for a jury of 12 people in felony cases, so it will always be to your advantage to utilize a jury trial.You will be present for every part of your trial except when the jury deliberates. Your criminal court case starts with jury selection. Both your attorney and the district attorney are allowed to ask a group of potential jurors questions in order to determine if the people can be fair jurors. Once the jury is selected and sworn, the judge reads your charges to the jury. Then both sides will make opening statements, first the prosecution and then your attorney. The district attorney then presents the case against you by calling witnesses to testify and introducing evidence to the jury. Your attorney will cross-examine the witnesses after the district attorney has questioned them. This is called the “prosecution’s case-in-chief.”

    Once the prosecution is done presenting their case, your attorney may make some special motions to the court. Next, your attorney will present your evidence to the jury in an attempt to give the jury a fuller picture of the case or to discredit evidence presented by the district attorney. This phase of trial occurs in the same way the prosecution’s case was presented, except your attorney calls witnesses and the district attorney cross-examines them.

    You have the right to testify at trial and you have the right not to testify. Often your attorney will advise you not to testify because there will be no advantage to gain from your testimony. The judge will make sure you understand your rights regarding testimony. He will also advise the jury that if you choose not to testify, they cannot use your decision as evidence of guilt.

    Following the presentation of all your evidence, your attorney may make more special motions. The judge will instruct the jury on the laws involved in your case. Each side will make a closing argument, first the district attorney and then your attorney. The district attorney has the last word in what is called a “rebuttal argument” where they respond to your closing argument. The jury leaves the court room and begins deliberations. When the jury reaches a verdict they return to the court room and the judge announces the verdict. Felony trials usually take at least a day, but often last much longer.

  • FELONY SENTENCING – Sentencing is often the bottom line when it comes to making some of the important decisions throughout your case. You will always need to know the possible penalties – the risk – associated with a certain course of action. This is especially true when deciding whether to accept a specific plea agreement offer. If the offer does not provide a better result than a conviction and sentence, you might determine that you have nothing to lose except the financial cost of a trial.Regardless, felony sentencing is a very important phase of the felony legal process. If you are being sentenced, then you have either accepted a plea agreement or been convicted following a trial. If you accepted a plea agreement, some of the more important components of your sentence – years in prison – may have been predetermined and the judge will only decide issues like your fine and restitution. If you were convicted following a trial, the judge has control over all components of your sentence, but within certain guidelines established under Colorado law.

    Possible prison sentences include the following: (1) Class one felony , life imprisonment or death; (2) Class two felony, 8-24 years; (3) Class three felony, 4-12 years; (4) Class four felony, 2-6 years; (5) Class five felony, 1-3 years; and (6) Class six felony, 1-1.5 years. Depending on your charges or the special circumstances of your case, higher or lower sentencing ranges may apply. Determining your possible sentence can be a complex calculation and demands the attention of an attorney.

    Prior to a felony sentencing hearing, the probation department will file a presentence investigation report with the court. It recommends how the court should sentence you. The probation department will want to interview you and – depending on your situation – this might not be in your best interest. You must consult with your attorney before making any statements to the probation department. The sentencing hearing itself has relaxed rules of evidence. The judge will listen to anything he or she decides is helpful in forming a decision. This may include statements from the victim or the victim’s family, evidence about how you have been doing since your trial, and even evidence that was excluded from the trial. You can also make a statement to the court, but you are not required to do so. Your attorney will help you make that decision. The district attorney and your attorney will make arguments to the court about what a fair sentence would be in your case. At the end of the hearing, the judge will issue a ruling stating the reasons for his or her decision and exactly what your sentence will be.

  • APPEALS – An appeal is not a second trial; the two are very different. An appeal is a chance to explain to the court of appeals that the trial court did something unconstitutional during your trial or sentencing. It also explains how the court of appeals can fix the problem. Anyone convicted of a felony in a Colorado state court has the right to appeal the conviction. To initiate an appeal you must file a notice of appeal within 45 days of the final order – usually this will be 45 days from your sentencing hearing. All felony appeals are heard by the Colorado Court of Appeals.The way you make your case is by filing a brief, a legal document that explains important facts about your case. Essentially it presents a legal argument. Sometimes you will need to participate in oral arguments before Court of Appeals judges in support of the brief. It is better to have an attorney write and file your brief and make the oral arguments on your behalf. The government usually files a brief in opposition to your brief. If oral arguments occur, the government will argue against your appeal.

    If the court of appeals denies your appeal, you can then file your appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court requesting that a similar process occur, but the Colorado Supreme Court only accepts a small percentage of the cases that are filed. Appeals involve technical and complex legal arguments and have a very low chance of success.

    Nonetheless, your best chance of success is with an experienced criminal trial attorney.

  • POST-CONVICTION MOTIONS – A post-conviction motion is a motion to the trial court filed after you have been convicted. It requests that the trial court do one or more of the following: (1) correct your sentence because it is illegal – meaning that the laws at the time you were sentenced do not allow your sentence in its current form – often called a 35(A) motion; (2) reduce your sentence because you have shown through rehabilitation and good behavior that a lesser sentence is more appropriate, often called a 35(B) motion; and (3) vacate your conviction because your constitutional rights were violated due to the way your trial or sentencing was handled, often called a 35(C) motion.Everything about post-conviction motions is highly technical and can cause problems for those without legal training. Your right to file a post-conviction motion and the strategy on how best to do so is governed by complex statutes. Further, the procedural rules can be extremely confusing. Post-conviction motions can be filed after your conviction, but only for a specified period of time which always depends on the circumstances of your case.

    If you want to pursue post-conviction remedies, you should consult an attorney as soon as you can after your sentencing hearing.

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