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Prevention of gun violence, especially among juveniles, is something Denver is looking to address. The set-up of a specialized court in the city’s judicial system is currently in progress.

A program is being designed to target first-time juvenile offenders and prevent them from committing more gun crimes down the road – and possibly being tried as an adult in the process.

Case in point? In 2019, five juveniles under the age of 18 were charged with murder. 120 were charged with handgun possession.

If the gun court had intervened with some of these cases, they could have had a much different outcome for everyone involved – especially because in the state of Colorado juveniles can be charged as adults.

What Colorado Juvenile Courts Do

There are a variety of children served by juvenile courts in the state of Colorado. The most common are children who:

  • Have committed acts of delinquency which are considered something that, if perpetrated by an adult, would be considered criminal
  • Commit status offenses such as running away, truancy, or violating curfew
  • Have been neglected, abandoned or abused
  • Are 12 or older and have committed serious crimes

For any offender over age twelve, going before a judge to be tried as an adult is sometimes an option.

When Can a Juvenile Be Tried as an Adult in Colorado?

Colorado law generally charges people under the age of 18 as juveniles. The exception is when a juvenile is involved in a felony of a very serious nature, usually a Class 4 felony or higher.

In those cases, a juvenile can only be tried as an adult if they’re over the age of 12. It’s often the case that these defendants have a prior record as well. In these cases, the juvenile court will transfer the case to the district court.

If a juvenile is at least the age of 16 and charged with a Class 1 or Class 2 felony, a felony involving a weapon, or a violent felony, then those cases often go straight to the district court and bypass the juvenile court entirely to charge them as an adult.

Which Factors Influence Decisions to Try CO Juveniles as Adults?

In many cases, it’s the prosecutor who decides if a juvenile is to be charged as an adult. There are a few factors that can influence this decision such as:

  • The seriousness of the offense (armed robbery, murder, forcible sex crimes, murder, assault, and other serious offenses)
  • If the offense was perpetrated in a violent, willful, premeditated, or aggressive manner
  • If the offense was perpetrated against a person or property
  • The previous record of the juvenile
  • The likelihood of rehabilitation
  • The impact the offense had on the victim
  • If the juvenile possessed, used or threatened the use of a deadly weapon

In these circumstances, the prosecutor may recommend a transfer to the district courts where the child is tried as an adult.

What Can Be Done Now If Your Colorado Juvenile Faces Adult Trial?

What Can Be Done Now If Your Colorado Juvenile Faces Adult Trial?

If a juvenile is transferred to the district court to be tried an adult, then they need help navigating the criminal justice system. Understanding the charges and mounting a defense can help them to understand the negative impact a criminal record can have on their future as well as their freedom.

Specialized juvenile courts are a new idea and one that will hopefully help to lower the number of juveniles being tried as adults in Colorado.


About the Author:

Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state.  She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.

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