As a Colorado defense attorney, I am often asked about the timeline and procedure of a felony case. Most people know from pop culture portrayals of the legal system that a defendant who pleads not guilty in a felony case will typically go to trial, but there are actually several other important steps that may be less familiar.
To help defendants, their families, and other interested parties better understand the felony case procedure, I have outlined the main steps below. You can also view these steps in an infographic that I created here.
Arrest or Summons
When a defendant is charged with a felony, they will either be arrested or will receive a summons to appear in court on a certain day. To make an arrest, a police officer must either have seen a crime take place or receive an arrest warrant from a judge based on probable cause. In some cases, the police and prosecution may decide that a defendant will go to court when told to do so and that an arrest warrant is not necessary. In this type of situation, the defendant will be let out of police custody after signing a document saying that he or she will appear in court on a specific date. If the defendant fails to appear on that date, a judge will issue a bench warrant and the defendant will be taken into custody.
A defendant will be advised of his or her rights and will be presented with a list of the charges filed against him or her. At this point, if the prosecutor declines to file the charges, the case will be dismissed.
Preliminary Hearing and Arraignment
If the prosecutor does not decline to file the charges, the judge will set a date for either a preliminary hearing (for Class 3 felonies or higher) or a disposition (for Class 4, 5, of 6 felonies). During the preliminary hearing, the judge will decide whether there is probable cause to move the case forward, and the prosecution and defense will present their evidence. During a disposition, the defense attorney may negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecution if this is in the best interest of their client.
If, after the preliminary hearing, the judge determines that there is probable cause, the case will be bound over to the District Court. The defendant can either plead guilty or not guilty. If he or she pleads guilty, sentencing will usually take place at least a month later.
Motions Hearing and Jury Trial
When a defendant pleads not guilty, their case will move to a motions hearing. At this time, the lawyers on both sides of the case will argue any legal issues that need to be resolved before the case moves to a jury trial. In some cases, a defense attorney’s victory at the motions hearing can result in the dismissal of the defendant’s case.
If, however, the case is not dismissed during the motions hearing, it will move to a jury trial. The main steps of the trial are jury selection, opening statements, the prosecution’s case, the defense’s case, and closing arguments. After the closing arguments, the jury will deliberate and come to a unanimous verdict. If they find the defendant not guilty, the case will be dismissed. If they find the defendant guilty, the final step of the felony case process will be sentencing. In some cases, sentencing will be immediate, but in others, it may take place over a month later.
Anyone who has been arrested or received a summons for felony charges in Colorado should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible, as a skilled attorney can be instrumental in the outcome of the case.
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.