Misdemeanor Charges

Hopkins Law handles all misdemeanor cases.

Misdemeanor-type offenses in Colorado include:

Hopkins Law also handles all petty cases.

Petty offenses in Colorado include:

Colorado Classification of Criminal Charges: Misdemeanors & Petty Offenses

Misdemeanor Types

In Colorado, misdemeanor charges are categorized into three classes – class one misdemeanors being the most serious. Generally, in Colorado’s classification of criminal charges, misdemeanor types are much less serious than felony charges. However, misdemeanor penalties will still have a major impact on your life.

Misdemeanor penalties may include jail time in county detention, probation, drug, alcohol and domestic violence classes, therapy, significant fines, community service and a permanent criminal record. It is also important to note that you will pay for the costs of your probation in addition to any fines and court costs. With misdemeanors, jail time is unlikely, but still very possible.

Petty Offenses

Petty offenses are categorized into two levels, and aside from some traffic infractions, are the least serious of criminal charges. The range of penalties, although somewhat milder, includes the same options as the misdemeanor penalties. It also results in a permanent criminal record. Regardless of whether you are dealing with a misdemeanor or petty offense, knowing how to protect your rights, knowing what to expect, and knowing when you need to contact an attorney is very valuable.

Your Misdemeanor Case – Understanding the Process

The misdemeanor process can be complex and confusing. Knowing your basic rights, knowing what to expect, and knowing when you need to contact an attorney are critical. The best way to protect yourself – if you are charged with a crime – is to know your rights.

The United States and Colorado constitutions provide you with basic rights relating to criminal prosecutions. Although not your only important constitutional rights, three of these rights are especially important when you are 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 investigate
  • (3) the right to counsel once you have been arrested or charged.

The following is a step-by-step description of the most common parts of a Colorado misdemeanor case. The corresponding information advises you on how to protect your constitutional rights.

  • 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 – In most misdemeanor and petty cases you will not be jailed prior to your first court date, but the police do have the authority to jail you.

    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.

  • FILING OF CHARGES – The filing of charges in a misdemeanor or petty case is a less formal and more flexible process than the filing of felony charges. Misdemeanors and petty offenses can be charged by the district attorney, but they are often charged by the police officer who is at the scene of the incident. The police officer can issue a “summons and complaint,” and give you a copy, file a copy with the county court where the incident occurred, and give the district attorney a copy.

    The summons and complaint looks like a traffic ticket and lists the offenses with which you are charged. It displays a date on which you are required to appear in court. It also lists basic information about the incident and your information – name, address, driver’s license etc.

  • 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.

  • MISDEMEANOR TRIAL – Every phase of the legal process is vitally important, but trial is where the rubber meets the road. This is where all the advance preparations and legal strategy come together. In a misdemeanor or petty case you have the right to a jury trial. A jury trial is not automatic when the maximum possible penalty in your case is less than six months in jail. You have to request a jury trial. Otherwise your trial will be heard and guilt/innocence determined only by the judge. In a misdemeanor case, you have the right to a six person jury.

    In a petty offense case you have the right to a three person jury, but can request a six person jury.

    To be found guilty by a jury, the verdict must be unanimous. So it will always be to your advantage to request a jury trial.

    You will be present for every part of your trial except when the jury deliberates. Your misdemeanor trial begins with jury selection. Both your attorney and the district attorney are allowed to ask questions of potential jurors to determine if they can be objective.

    Once the jury is selected and sworn in, the judge reads them the charges against you.

    First the prosecution makes an opening statement and then your attorney does. The district attorney then calls witnesses to testify and introduces evidence in his or her case against you. He or she will question the witnesses and then your attorney can cross-examine. This is called the “prosecution’s case-in-chief.” Your attorney may make some special motions to the court, once the prosecution is done presenting his or her case.

    Next, your lawyer will present favorable evidence to the jury about your case. In so doing, he or she may also discredit evidence previously 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 also have the right to remain off the stand. Often your attorney will advise you not to testify because seeing that there is no advantage for the jury to hear from you directly. The presiding judge will make sure you understand your rights in this regard.

    The judge will also emphasize to the jury that your not testifying must not be perceived as an indication of guilt.

    Following the presentation of all your evidence, your defense lawyer may make some more special motions. The judge will then instruct the jury on the specific laws applicable in your case. The prosecution and then the defense will each make closing argument. Finally, in what is called a “rebuttal argument” the district attorney gets to have the very last word. This argument is in response to your attorney’s closing argument. The jury then leaves the court room and starts deliberations. When the jury reaches a decision, they return to the court room and the judge announces their verdict. Misdemeanor and petty offense trials usually take less than a day.

  • MISDEMEANOR SENTENCING – the anticipation of your sentence is often the bottom line when it comes to making important case decisions throughout the process.

    This is especially true when you and your defense attorney decide whether to accept a certain plea agreement offer.

    The thinking might be: if the plea offer will not provide a better result than a conviction and sentence, you may decide jointly to see the process through. There will of course be a financial cost to continue through to sentencing.

    Regardless, sentencing is a very important phase of the 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 – like jail time – 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 jail sentences include the following: (1) Class one misdemeanor, 6-18 months; (2) Class two misdemeanor, 3-12 months; and (3) Class three misdemeanor or class one petty offense, 0-6 months. Depending on your charges or the special circumstances of your case, shorter or longer sentencing ranges may apply. Determining your possible sentence can be a complex calculation and requires the attention of an experienced Colorado attorney.

    Prior to a sentencing hearing, the probation department will file a pre-sentence 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 deems might be helpful in forming a decision. This might include statements from the victim or the victim’s family, evidence about how you have been behaving since your trial began, and even evidence that was excluded from the trial.

    You can also make a statement to the court. 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. At the end of the hearing, the judge will issue a ruling – stating exactly what your sentence will be and the specific reasons for his or her decision.

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