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Understanding Common Criminal Sentencing Laws in Colorado

— May 16, 2024

While the law is much more nuanced than this article, you may now have a base level understanding of how confusing Colorado sentencing laws can be and why it is important to be defended by a competent criminal defense attorney. 

The Colorado sentencing laws can be very confusing as there are many factors that affect them. Before receiving a final sentence, a Colorado criminal defense lawyer will help fight for the best outcome possible. This process can take a lot of time and a deep understanding of Colorado sentencing laws. 

What Are “Truth in Sentencing” Laws?

Determining a felony or misdemeanant’s final sentencing time can be tricky in Colorado. Opposed to federal sentencing times where a prisoner will spend the majority of their sentence locked up, Colorado has what is called “truth in sentencing” laws. This means that the sentencing time and actual time served can differ significantly. Factors such as the crime committed and the prisoner’s behavior and efforts for rehabilitation while in prison will act as a variable to the sentencing time. 

Types of Criminal Sentences

In Colorado, criminal offenses are categorized into two main types: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are less serious offenses, typically punishable by fines, probation, or imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year. Examples of misdemeanors include petty theft, disorderly conduct, and simple assault. Felonies, on the other hand, are more severe crimes that carry harsher penalties, including incarceration in state prison. Felonies are further divided into different classes, ranging from Class 1 felonies (the most serious) to Class 6 felonies (the least serious). Offenses such as murder, rape, and robbery are classified as felonies and may result in lengthy prison sentences, hefty fines, and other legal consequences. 

What Are Colorado’s Minimum Sentencing Laws?

Colorado, like many other states, has implemented mandatory minimum sentencing laws for certain criminal offenses. These laws require judges to impose a minimum sentence upon conviction, regardless of mitigating factors or individual circumstances. While proponents argue that mandatory minimums deter crime and promote consistency in sentencing, critics contend that they undermine judicial discretion and disproportionately affect marginalized communities. Mandatory minimum sentences have been particularly controversial in cases involving nonviolent drug offenses, where advocates argue for a more rehabilitative approach rather than strict punishment. 

Time Computations

District Attorney Seeks Lower Probation and Parole Terms for Inmates
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Inmates are released on parole once they reach their parole eligibility date. In order to calculate the PED, the inmate must have served 50% of the sentence which includes their pre-sentence confinement credit. Pre-sentence confinement is the time spent in jail or corrections before the sentence was assigned. Some crimes however are not eligible for this. There are also 50% deductions which will affect the actual sentence length. This means that sentencing times can be reduced to half when the inmate enters the Department of Corrections. Therefore if you were assigned a 6 year sentence, this could become a 3 year sentence if good behavior is displayed. Additionally, earned time is another factor that can affect an actual sentence. Inmates can earn time off of their sentence by participating in work, training, showing progress to their goals, and complying with parole. The maximum amount of earned time that can be given is 10 days per month. This time can also be rescinded if poor behavior is displayed.

Exceptions to Time Computations

Time computations that can limit the length of the sentence don’t apply to certain crimes. Inmates who have committed violent crimes can only get sentences reduced by 25% instead of 50% but can still be eligible for earned time. Additionally, sex offenders have different rules for sentencing times. Sex offenders are not awarded 25% or 50% deductions but they can get earned time. Sex offenders must serve all sentenced time minus earned time and pre-sentence time up to life in prison. However, due to the Colorado Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act, inmates who committed a class 4 or higher crime are subject to this act and will have an indeterminate and potentially life sentence. Indeterminate sentences leave discretion to the parole board as to when you can be eligible.

It is important to have an understanding of factors that can affect a sentence in Colorado. While the law is much more nuanced than this article, you may now have a base level understanding of how confusing Colorado sentencing laws can be and why it is important to be defended by a competent criminal defense attorney. 

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