Occasionally, the State will file charges against a juvenile in adult court (district court) – . The direct file system allows Colorado prosecutors to try juveniles who are 16 years or older as adults, primarily in situations where it is alleged that the juvenile committed a violent crime. Under this system, the prosecutor directly files the case in adult court without first having to hold a transfer hearing by a judge who decides whether such a move would be appropriate.
However, Governor Hickenlooper signed a bill limiting the ability of prosecutors to direct file on a juvenile in April of 2012. The bill raised the age at which a young offender may be charged as an adult from 14 to 16. Additionally, the bill bars prosecutors from charging juveniles as adults for many low and mid-level felonies. Felonies which would make a 16 or 17 year old eligible to be direct filed on are: any class 1 or 2 felony, any sexual assault that is a crime of violence, any felony defined as a crime of violence, or sexual assault on a child. Additionally, the juvenile must have at least one prior adjudicated felony offense to be eligible for direct filing. Once a juvenile is direct filed on, the juvenile would be entitled to a preliminary hearing where the district court will determine whether there is probable cause for an offense eligible for direct filing; if not, the case is remanded back to the juvenile court.
Oftentimes, judges sentence juveniles convicted as an adult to a prison sentence suspended on condition of successful completion of Colorado’s Youthful Offender System (YOS) – a program that aims to prepare those convicted under direct file to be productive members of society. This program was created by the Department of Corrections pursuant to a Special Session of the General Assembly. A juvenile sentenced to YOS will be kept separate from and not brought into physical contact with adult inmates. A YOS sentence consists of educational and prevocational programs during Phases I and II, and a period of highly structured community monitoring during Phase III.