If your case does not involve a mandatory prison sentence, you may be eligible for probation. The laws regarding the granting or denial of probation can be confusing, and it is best to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. For example, a defendant must be sentenced to prison if they have two prior felony convictions.
Avoiding Jail or Prison
Naturally, avoiding incarceration is job one for your lawyer. While your lawyer will manage your criminal defense case, please remember to do your part by being courteous in and around the courthouse, and at every court appearance. Equally obvious is that you should dress in a somewhat professional manner, if not in a suit. The court's impression of you will likely make a big difference at some point during the process, regardless of how your case is resolved.
Sentencing in Colorado
The first step in determining what sentence you may face for a crime is to determine what level, or degree, of crime you have been charged with. Most crimes are charged as either felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies are more serious, and give rise to possible prison sentences. Misdemeanors can only lead to a sentence to county jail. Within each category, there are different "classes." For example, felonies range from first degree, such as murder, down to sixth degree, such as some of the drug offenses. Naturally, the more serious the offense class, the greater the possible jail or prison sentence. You should be able to find the offense level on your charging document. For example, if you see "F3," this means that you are facing a Third Degree Felony, etc.
Each class of offense carries a "presumptive" sentence range. This means that unless there are unusual circumstances that justify going outside of this range, the judge will sentence the Defendant to an amount of time within the presumptive range for that crime. If there are facts that "aggravate" the crime, that is, make it worse than usual, then the judge can increase the sentence outside of the range. On the other hand, if there are facts that "mitigate" the offense, or make it less bad than usual, the judge can impose less time in jail or prison than the presumptive amount. One of the important roles that your Denver criminal lawyer must play in your case is to give you an accurate assessment of the likely penalty you will face if convicted. In some cases, the Defendant may be probation eligible, and may not be sentenced to incarceration.
The judge in your case will consider many factors when deciding your sentence. Many of these considerations are obvious, such as a prior record of criminal conduct, and of course, the facts of the case itself. The judge will also be trying to get a feel for whether you are likely to commit another crime if you are not punished. This is one reason that effective courtroom representation is so important. A Defendant that looks like he made a one time bad decision, and shows respect for the law, is less likely to be punished severely than someone who appears not to care about facing the court system. Also, the statements made by the victim of the crime, and of course the District Attorney's arguments, will also have a bearing on the court's decision.
Once you have determined the class of crime you have been charged with, please view the appropriate sentencing chart:
Misdemeanor Sentencing Chart
Class One Misdemeanor (M1): Up to 18 Months in Jail*
Class Two Misdemeanor (M2): Up to 12 Months in Jail
Class Three Misdemeanor (M3): Up to 6 Months in Jail
* Charges labeled as Extraordinary Risk Crimes carry an increased maximum sentence (18 months is increased to 24 months in the county jail).
Examples of Extraordinary Risk Crimes include Third Degree Assault, Child Abuse, Violation of Restraining Order (only for second or later offenses), and Unlawful Sexual Contact.
Felony Sentencing Chart
Presumptive Minimum: Life in Prison
Presumptive Maximum: Death Sentence
Presumptive Minimum: 8 Years in Prison
Presumptive Maximum: 24 Years in Prison
Presumptive Minimum: 4 Years in Prison
Presumptive Maximum: 12 Years in Prison*
Presumptive Minimum: 2 Years in Prison
Presumptive Maximum: 6 Years in Prison*
Presumptive Minimum: 1 Year in Prison
Presumptive Maximum: 3 Years in Prison*
Presumptive Minimum: 1 Year in Prison
Presumptive Maximum: 18 Months in Prison*
* If the judge finds exceptional aggravating circumstances, the range can increase to double the maximum.
If the charge is also designated as a "Crime of Violence," this may result in a mandatory prison sentence, which means the judge has no choice but to sentence you to prison.
Any sentence to prison will be followed by a mandatory parole.