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Written by: Austin Lux
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Former Colorado Prosecutor Explains Colorado Sentencing Guidelines

If police in Colorado charge you with a criminal offense, you are probably concerned about the punishment you could receive if you are convicted.

You may worry that a judge could sentence you to jail or prison, levy excessive fines, and impose probation. However, you should remember that a judge can only impose a sentence based on Colorado sentencing guidelines after a conviction. 

Having an experienced criminal defense attorney fight to protect your rights is the first step in maintaining your innocence and preserving your freedom.

As an experienced former prosecutor, Austin Lux now works for you. Austin understands Colorado sentencing guidelines and can help limit your exposure to Colorado’s harsh criminal penalties.

Criminal Sentencing in Colorado

Colorado uses a four-tiered sentencing structure for its criminal offenses. Like all states and the federal government, Colorado has felonies and misdemeanors. Additionally, Colorado classifies some minor offenses as petty misdemeanors. Finally, municipal ordinance violations and infractions comprise the fourth category of criminal offenses in Colorado. City and town governments enact ordinances or by-laws that are enforceable only within the particular municipality.

Each criminal statute and municipal ordinance defines the severity of the offense. Also, the individual laws will specify whether the crime belongs to a particular class of offense. The class structure used by the Colorado sentencing guidelines sets the parameters for minimum and maximum punishments allowed for the specific offense.

Colorado Misdemeanor Offenses

The Colorado sentencing guidelines arrange misdemeanors into four general categories. They are Class I, Class II, Class III, and uncategorized. Additionally, Colorado treats some misdemeanors, such as DUI and minor drug offenses, differently from other misdemeanor offenses. Colorado drug laws rank crimes as misdemeanors and felonies but use a different classification system to signify the severity of the charge. 

Colorado’s misdemeanor offense statute also sets forth the maximum fine the law allows a judge to impose. Additionally, the statute requires that every person who goes to jail for any misdemeanor offense must serve their time at the county jail rather than in the state prison system.

Class I Misdemeanors in Colorado

Class I misdemeanors are the most serious misdemeanor offenses under Colorado sentencing guidelines. After a conviction for a Class I misdemeanor, the potential jail sentence is between six and 18 months in the county jail. The court may impose a fine between $500 and $5,000 as well.

Class II Misdemeanors in Colorado

Class II misdemeanor charges carry a maximum sentence of 364 days in jail with a minimum of three months of incarceration. Additionally, fines for Class II misdemeanors range from $250 to $1,000.

Class III Misdemeanors in Colorado

Class III misdemeanor charges carry a maximum jail sentence of six months along with a potential fine ranging from $50 to $750. 

Punishment for Uncategorized Misdemeanors

Colorado sentencing guidelines do not specify punishments for uncategorized misdemeanors. Generally speaking, any misdemeanor that the legislature did not classify or for which it did not specify a range of sentences carries a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail. The court may impose a fine of no more than $1,000 as well.

Drug Misdemeanor Offenses

Colorado sentencing guidelines specify that drug offenses should have different penalties than other misdemeanor offenses. Colorado law refers to drug misdemeanors by level. Anyone convicted of a Level 1 drug misdemeanor faces a sentence from six to 18 months in jail. The potential fines range from $500 to $5,000. 

Level 2 drug misdemeanors are less serious than Level 1. A conviction for a Level 2 drug misdemeanor could result in a jail term not to exceed 364 days, along with fines up to $750.

Recent changes in the law decreased the potential penalties for Level 1 and Level 2 drug misdemeanors. For a Level 1 misdemeanor committed after March 1, 2020, the jail term is capped at 180 days. The court can impose two years of probation and issue fines as well. Similarly, a conviction for a Level 2 drug misdemeanor carries a 120-day maximum sentence along with one year of probation. The possible maximum penalties increase with third and subsequent convictions for misdemeanor drug crimes.

Misdemeanor Traffic Offenses and Petty Crimes

Traffic offenses and petty misdemeanors are less serious offenses, generally. Class I traffic misdemeanors carry a possible jail term between 10 days and one year, with fines of $300 to $1,000. Class 2 traffic misdemeanors can result in 10 to 90 days in jail, with fines ranging from $150 to $300. 

DUI and DWAI are also misdemeanors unless the person has had four or more offenses. These crimes have their own sentencing structure. 

A petty offense in Colorado carries possible jail time. Class I petty misdemeanors have jail sentences capped at six months, along with a maximum fine of $500. The penalties for Class II petty misdemeanors are less severe than Class I petty offenses. 

Judges enjoy broad discretion when sentencing people convicted of misdemeanor crimes. Probation instead of incarceration is an option in many circumstances, especially if the person charged has no previous offenses or a few minor offenses on their record. Additionally, a judge could accept a deferred adjudication instead of a guilty finding for misdemeanor crimes. Deferred adjudication is advantageous to most people because the procedure allows them to keep convictions off their record.

Colorado Felony Sentencing Guidelines

Convictions for all felonies in Colorado require the offender to serve their sentence in the state prison. Judges can place offenders on probation and assess fines as well for felony convictions. As with misdemeanors, the severity of the crime dictates the potential prison time.

Statutes in Colorado often break down the severity of offense into degrees. Assault is a typical example of how degrees of a crime dictate the presumptive sentence a court may impose. Colorado law separates assault into first, second, and third degrees. The seriousness of each assault determines the degree of offense and the class of felony.

It’s essential to seek expert legal help from an experienced criminal defense attorney in Colorado if you face any charges, especially felonies. A felony conviction not only carries prison time but could also have an adverse effect on your life. You might find it hard, if not impossible, to find a good job, obtain adequate living arrangements, vote, and apply for federal benefits, and you may lose your opportunity to stay in the country if your citizenship status is in question for a felony conviction.

Colorado Felony Classes

Colorado felony sentencing guidelines classify felonies as Class 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and unclassified. Class 1 felonies are the most serious, and Class 6 felonies are less severe. As with misdemeanors, the individual statute will designate the felony class for the crime unless the legislature did not set a class for the offense.

Class 1 Felony Offenses

Class 1 felony offenses are the most serious under Colorado law. Crimes such as first-degree murder are Class 1 felonies. The sentence for a conviction of a Class 1 felony is life in prison.

Class 2 Felony Offenses

Class 2 felonies are serious crimes. However, they are less serious than a Class 1 felony. A person convicted of a Class 2 felony faces between 8 and 24 years in prison. The possible fines range from $5,000 to $1,000,000. Moreover, the offender will serve at least five years on parole for a crime of violence. Otherwise, the offender must serve three years on parole after release from prison.

Class 3 Felony Offenses

A person convicted of a Class 3 felony in Colorado faces between 4 and 12 years in prison. Additionally, the offender will be on three years of parole after release from incarceration. The court may impose a fine of $3,000 but not more than $750,00.

Class 4 Felonies

Anyone convicted of a Class 4 felony in Colorado could serve a minimum of two years but no more than six years in prison. Also, the person must be on parole for another three years after release. Possible fines range from $2,000 to $500,000.

Class 5 Felonies

A sentence for a Class 5 felony is from one to three years unless the court determines the offender is an extraordinary risk. In that case, the maximum sentence is four years. The parole period after release is two years. Fines range from $1,000 to $100,000.

Class 6 Felonies

A person convicted of a Class 6 felony as an extraordinary risk offender could go to prison for up to two years. Otherwise, the offender could receive up to 18 months in prison with as little as one year. The fines are the same as for a Class 5 felony conviction. The parole period is one year after release from prison.

Unclassified and Drug Felonies

The sentence for unclassified felonies appears in the individual statute. Generally, the maximum prison term will not exceed five years for an unclassified felony.

Colorado law arranges drug felonies into levels. A Level 1 drug felony conviction carries a sentence between 8 and 32 years. The penalties decrease from there.

Considerations for Colorado Sentencing Guidelines

Judges in Colorado should impose a sentence that addresses the particular individual appearing before the court. Therefore, unless the statute calls for a minimum mandatory sentence, the judge is free to fashion a sentence that punishes and rehabilitates the offender. 

Instead of prison, a judge in Colorado could impose:

  • Probation,
  • Community service,
  • House arrest,
  • Deferred prosecution or adjudication, and
  • Community corrections.

However, certain crimes remove discretion from the judge. For example, aggravated offenses and habitual criminals are subject to harsher penalties because of the offense’s severity and the offender’s prior criminal record.

What Can a Colorado Springs Defense Lawyer Do for You?

Representation from a lawyer with an in-depth comprehension of the criminal justice system in Colorado could help preserve your freedom. After evaluating your case, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney could develop a case strategy designed to minimize your exposure to jail time by negotiating a plea bargain or fighting the case before a jury. 

Seek Expert Legal Help Immediately If You Have Criminal Charges in Colorado

When you face an uncertain future because of a criminal case pending in Colorado, you need to speak with an award-winning criminal defense lawyer with extensive experience. As a prosecutor, Austin Lux learned how the Colorado criminal justice system works. Now, he uses the experience he gained and puts it to work for you.

Contact Colorado Springs criminal defense lawyer Austin Lux today at (719) 368-7698 to learn more about how Austin can protect your future, family, and freedom.

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