Criminal Justice Process

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The Criminal Justice Process

The 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office files more than 5,700 felony cases a year. The office prosecutes 26,000 misdemeanor and traffic cases. These cases involve the prosecution of a wide range of violations of Colorado State Statutes. There are a number of steps involved in the criminal justice process.

The criminal justice process for felony offenses begins with the crime, and the subsequent investigation or arrest of someone for that crime. When a crime is committed, law enforcement gets the first call. It is the responsibility of local police and the Adams County Sheriff’s Office to investigate crimes and arrest suspects.

There are three major classes of offenses for which a person may be prosecuted: infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. An infraction is the least serious offense and often results in a fine. Many traffic violations, including speeding, are infractions. A misdemeanor is a more significant crime that can result in jail time. A felony is the most serious crime and may carry a penalty of imprisonment. In Colorado, First-Degree Murder is a Class 1 Felony and carries a penalty of life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

Once a person has been arrested for a crime, the District Attorney’s Office may file charges. The 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has the responsibility and authority to investigate and prosecute cases brought to the office by law enforcement.  The office evaluates whether there is enough evidence to support the charges originally brought by law enforcement.

Sometimes charges are filed before the defendant has been arrested. In this case, the defendant is said to be “at large” until he or she is arrested. In some cases, charges are filed directly into District Court or as the result of a Grand Jury indictment.

In some cases the district attorney may decline to file charges in a case if there is insufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt or if more investigation is required. If a case is rejected, the District Attorney’s Office does not discuss the reasons behind the decision.

Once formal charges are filed, the defendant will appear in court for an advisement in which a judge formally advises the defendant of the charges against him or her. The judge usually sets bond at this time, and a date is set for the next court appearance. With some felony charges, the next court date may be a preliminary hearing. In the case of other charges, it may involve a dispositional hearing.

At the preliminary hearing, testimony is heard to determine if there is enough evidence against the person to bring the case to trial. Preliminary hearings take place in County Court. The defendant may waive a preliminary hearing if he or she wishes. If there is sufficient evidence, the case will be bound over for trial in District Court. The next court appearance is an arraignment.

At the arraignment, the defendant enters a plea of not guilty or guilty to the charges. If the District Attorney’s Office has offered a plea agreement the defendant may also accept the agreement and plead guilty. Arraignment takes place in a District Court division.

If the defendant pleaded not guilty, the next step is a jury trial. This may be preceded by hearings on motions. First a jury is selected through a process called Voir Dire, in which the jurors are told about the case and questioned about their background and opinions.  The defendant is presumed innocent and the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove the elements of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

After the jury is selected, the prosecutor gives an opening statement that outlines the prosecution’s case against the defendant. The defense attorney may make an opening statement but this is not required.

The prosecution presents its case, calling witnesses to testify. Witnesses are also used to admit physical evidence and photos for consideration by the jury. The prosecution’s case is followed by the defense if they choose to present a defense, although the defendant is not required to testify or present any witnesses or evidence.  Prosecutors and Defense attorneys may cross-examine each other’s witnesses. The prosecution may present witnesses or evidence to rebut any information presented by the defense.

After the evidence is presented, the prosecutor delivers a closing argument during which the evidence is reviewed and arguments supporting a guilty verdict are made. The defense presents its closing argument. The prosecution is permitted to rebut arguments raised by the defense attorney.

Then the case goes to the jury for deliberation. The jury may find the defendant guilty, not guilty or may be unable to agree on a verdict resulting in a mistrial or “hung” jury.

If the defendant is found not guilty, the case is dismissed and the defendant is free. If the defendant is convicted by being found guilty by a jury or pleading guilty in the case, he or she would be sentenced in accordance with Colorado law. If a jury is unable to reach a verdict or a mistrial is declared, the case may be retried.

After a defendant is found guilty by a jury or pleads guilty, the next step is sentencing. Sentencing can occur immediately but is usually scheduled for another date several weeks later. Having the defendant return for sentencing at a later date allows the judge to gather additional information before the sentencing decision is made. Crime victims and their family members may speak at the sentencing hearing. The defendant may address the court and people may speak on his or her behalf. The judge hears from the prosecutor and defense attorney and then imposes the sentence.

To inquire about a specific case being handled by the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, you will need to know the case number or the full name of the defendant. Call 303-659-7720 to reach the District Attorney’s Office.

Diagram of the criminal justice process

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