Colorado Felony Cases
What happens in court?
Although each judge runs his courtroom differently and practice varies slightly in each county, the following describes the general path of a felony case though Colorado's courts.
Filing / Advisal
The first court appearance in Colorado felony cases is usually the Filing or Advisal date. On that date, the County Court gives an accused a copy of the Complaint or charges against him. The Court also advises about the rights one has in a criminal case.
Often, bond is set at this time, so it helps to have a lawyer prepared to argue for a lower bond, where possible.
Preliminary Hearing (PH) or Dispositional Hearing
Depending on the level of a felony, a Defendant is entitled either to a "preliminary hearing" (PH) or a "dispositional hearing." Generally, more serious cases merit a PH.
The purpose of a PH is for the County Court to decide if there is "probable cause" to "bind the case over" to District Court. Evidence is taken and the DA must prove that tit is more likely than not that a crime was committed. However, usually there is little opportunity for meaningful cross-examination of witnesses. Hearsay (second-hand) evidence is admissible.
The PH is a "critical stage" proceeding. It helps to have an experienced lawyer present. Decisions must be made here which have an impact on the future course of the case. Do you waive this PH? Do you do the hearing? Can you win here? Would you lose out on a good "offer" if you go forward with the hearing? Only a skilled advocate with years of criminal experience can competently advise on these issues.
Some cases only merit a "dispo hearing." This is a chance to first discuss the case with the prosecution. A defendant is at risk if he speaks of the facts of the case to anyone but his lawyer. And, first impressions are important, so it again helps to have counsel for the "dispo hearing."
Once the Court finds probable cause after a preliminary hearing or after a dispositional hearing, the defendant is required to appear in District Court to be arraigned.
Arraignments happen in District Court. Once your case has been bound over, your case will stay in District Court.
At the arraignment, the Judge will either advise a Defendant of his rights again, or seek a "waiver" of that advisal. Usually the defense attorney will waive any further reading of the charges and the rights and plead enter a "not guilty" plea for his client.
Often, however, the defense attorney will continue the Arraignment rather than entering any plea because he does not want to start the "speedy trial clock running or because he wants more time to work out a plea.
At the arraignment, the judge will set dates for motions to be filed and heard. Motions are (usually) written requests by either side for a court to admit or keep out evidence, or for a court to do things in the case. Often they deal with procedural issues only, but make no mistake about it, motions are important.
Depending on the case, there might be many motions, few motions, or none at all. Sometimes motions are filed primarily so that a hearing can be held where witnesses will testify and more can be learned about a case, or so that such testimony can be "locked in."
Several commonly filed motions involve "suppression" issues. Statements, Evidence of Identity, or Physical Evidence may be suppressed if taken in violation of an accused's constitutional rights.
If a judge grants a "hearing" on a motion, it does not mean that he agrees with the motion, just that he will hear evidence or argument about it. Winning a hearing might mean keeping certain evidence out of a trial. Winning a hearing does not necessarily mean winning a case.
If a defendant is convicted after trial or after a plea bargain, he or she will be sentenced by the court. This sentencing date will occur approximately 8 weeks after the conviction.
These 8 weeks can be critical. Probation will prepare a report advising the Court about the case. Sentencing can be "won" or "lost" with these reports.
Often, the key aspect of sentencing is whether a jail or prison sentence is imposed. Sometimes, the issue is how much prison.
I hate jail. My personal goal for all of my clients is to eliminate jail completely, or minimize the amount of time my clients must spend in jail or in prison.
Many lawyers promise you that they will explore other sentencing alternatives besides jail. That's an easy promise to make, because many options are available under the law to anyone who qualifies under specific guidelines set forth by the court, the Legislature, the probation department, or the jails.
When I work with a client, it's important that we outline specific goals for the client, considering he or she is faced with a life-changing, usually horrible set of choices. Let's face it, who wants to have to go to court to defend a criminal case? Given that we're not dealing with the best of all possible circumstances, it's very important for my clients to help me understand where their priorities are, so I can put my efforts into accomplishing what's valuable to them.
For instance, some people are most concerning with not having a conviction on their record. Other people don't mind a conviction, if they can make sure it's cleared or sealed (sometimes erroneously called "expunged") in a couple of years when they'll be making a job change. Other people need to know that they won't miss too much work because of court, or that they'll be able to keep their job even if they have some sort of sentence to serve. Still others have childcare, education or licensing issues that are most important for them to protect. Others have a priority to see that they (finally) get their driver's license back, so they can stop getting little tickets that pile up and up and up...
Things to Consider Early On
Many of my clients find that they have drug and alcohol addiction or psychological issues to address. Others need professional help in controlling temper, range and anger. I can assist you in identifying these issues, and help guide you (if you want) to and work with professionals in the psychological, psychiatric, or recovery areas.
Successful work by you on these personal issues may:
- Enable the court to show you leniency where leniency may not have been easy to get otherwise
- Allow you to deal with the source of a recurring, debilitating problem in your life which you’ve never before had motivation to control.
Whatever your personal issues are, I can work with you to make sure you’ve identified them clearly, and then structure our work on the case around your own priorities. What’s right for one person is absolutely the wrong approach for another. All alternatives that are right for you, will be discussed, explored, and fought for in court and out of court.