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Your Denver Criminal Case: The Basics

Last updated: October 16, 2013

It's the call you never want to get. It's 1:00 a.m. and your phone rings. Your son is sobbing on the other end. You can't understand him, but hear the words "arrest" and "bail." He's never been in trouble with the law before. He's supposed leave for college at the University of Denver in a week. You don't even know where to begin. You learn he was arrested outside Coors Field after the Rockies game along with several of his friends.

Since arrests occur in so many different situations, it is difficult to predict exactly what will happen. This article provides general information about what to expect generally if you or someone you know are arrested in the Mile High City.

Your Arrest

An arrest is the beginning of your journey through the Colorado criminal justice system. You'll have contact with either the Denver Police Department, the Colorado State Patrol, or the Denver Sheriff Department.

There are several rules that the police must follow. If they neglect to follow these rules, it could jeopardize the state's case against you.

If questioned, you should be read your Miranda rights. Then, the police have two options: take you to jail for booking or release you with a promise to appear at a later date. If you're trying to find an inmate, he or she is probably downtown at the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center.

Posting Bail

If you want to go home, you'll either need to be released on your own recognizance or have to post bail. Bail is money that you have to pay to the courts in order to be released from jail pending trial. You usually have to put up 10% of the total amount of bail the judge sets in your case in order to get out.

Advisement

Next, is your advisement hearing at one of Denver's courts. Courtrooms are intimidating, particularly if this is your first time in the system. At this hearing, the court will advise you or your rights and may readjust the bail. There will also be a discussion of the crimes that have been charged. Usually, at this hearing you'll enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you can hire your own lawyer, represent yourself, or simply ask for a public defender.

The next step depends on whether you are accused of committing an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony.

Infractions in County Court

An infraction is a petty crime or minor breaking of the rules, such as violations relating to traffic, fishing and hunting, boating, and littering, including leaving your trash in Red Rocks Park. Law enforcement will issue you a ticket summoning you to appear in court. If convicted, you can't be sentenced to jail - a fine is the maximum punishment allowed for an infraction. You may challenge your ticket or plead guilty to the charges. In some instances, you can simply pay the fine online or by mail.

Misdemeanors in County Court

Misdemeanors are divided into three separate classes, 1 to 3. They're less serious than felonies, but remember, a conviction or guilty plea can still have consequences on your career and your freedom. If you are a non-citizen, a misdemeanor can also impact your immigration status.

Common Denver misdemeanors include driving under the influence (DUI), minor drug possession, petty theft, assault, resisting arrest, hit-and-run, and some domestic violence.

The maximum punishment you'll receive if convicted depends on the class of misdemeanor. A class 1 conviction is six to 18 months in jail. However, should the court classify it as an "extraordinary risk offense," the maximum penalty goes up to two years in the county jail. Some crimes carry additional penalties, such as mandatory counseling or substance abuse classes.

Your case will be set for a dispositional hearing, where parties can talk about the case and try to reach a resolution. If they can't, you will go to trial.

Six randomly selected members of the community will decide you're guilty or innocent. If the jury finds you not guilty, the case ends and you may go free. If you're convicted, the judge will impose a sentence on the charges you're convicted of.

Felony Cases

Felonies are no joke. They carry large penalties, often including years of prison time, large fines, and other major life-long repercussions. Typical felonies include murder, robbery, sexual assault, fraud, and drug sales.

In Denver, there are six classes of felonies with penalties ranging from one year in prison to the death sentence and hefty fines.

Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury
 
Next, you'll have either a preliminary hearing or a grand jury hearing. If your case goes to a preliminary hearing, a judge will hear the evidence and determine if there's probable cause to believe you have committed the offense. If the judge "holds you to answer" for the charges, she'll set a trial date and you'll be arraigned again. If it's a grand jury, a majority of the panel must believe sufficient evidence is present to return an indictment (formal charge) to the court.

Dispositional Hearing

The next stage in a felony is the pretrial conference. The District Attorney and defense attorney meet in the judge's chambers to discuss your case and sometimes enter a plea bargain. Pretrial gives your attorney an opportunity to gather information from the prosecution, explore that evidence, and possibly resolve your case without a trial.

Trial

If you go to trial, the prosecution must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You have the right to a jury trial where twelve randomly selected members of the community decide your guilt or innocence. Both the prosecutor and defense will present evidence. Remember, you can't be compelled to testify. If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will sentence you.

The Denver Probation Department will create a pre-sentence investigation report. Your attorney can work with probation to find sentencing alternatives other than jail or prison.

Criminal cases can have a serious, lasting impact on your life. You have options and rights. Anyone charged with an offense should at least consider consulting a skilled attorney.