CHAPTER 3: OVERVIEW OF THE COLORADO COURT SYSTEM - Table of Contents
3.1 - Overview of the Colorado Court System • 3.2 - Overview of the Criminal Justice Program • 3.3 - Prosecutors and Defense Lawyers • 3.4 - Overview of the Civil Justice Process • 3.5 - Plaintiff and Defense Counsel • 3.6 - State Courts in Boulder County • 3.7 - Municipal Courts in Boulder County • 3.8 - Small Claims Courts in Boulder County
3.2 OVERVIEW OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROCESS
The criminal justice process is discussed in more detail elsewhere in this Manual. Chapter 4 provides an overview of criminal cases, from arrest through trial. Chapter 5 discusses criminal law and criminal procedure, that is, the sources of substantive law and the rules we use to adjudicated criminal charges. Chapter 6 discusses many of the most common criminal offenses, and Chapter 7 discusses many of the most commonly occurring procedures in criminal cases. Chapter 12 provides a description of trials and Chapter 13 describes the rules of evidence used in trials. Finally, Chapter 14 describes the process of appeals.
In broadest terms, the criminal justice process begins with an investigation by some law enforcement authority. That investigation maybe as simple as pointing a radar gun at a speeding car, or as complex as a months-long undercover operation into a fraudulent stock selling scheme. An investigation that bears fruit results in the filing of charges. Depending on what specific law was allegedly violated, the charges may be filed against a defendant in municipal, state or federal court. Depending on the seriousness of the alleged violation, state court charges may be filed in either county or district court.
Once charges are filed, a prosecutor normally takes over the presentation of the case. City attorneys prosecute cases in municipal court, district attorneys (and sometimes the state attorney general) prosecute cases in state court and United States attorneys (and sometime the U.S. attorney general) prosecute cases in federal court. The prosecutor is responsible for any further investigation that needs to be done, as well as for handling the case in court through either plea negotiation or trial.
People who are charged with criminal offenses in the United States have the right to a criminal defense attorney. An accused can hire any attorney who is licenses to practice law in that court. If the case is serious enough, and the prosecution is seeking a jail or prison sentence, people who are deemed indigent - who cannot afford to hire an attorney - are entitled to an attorney at state expense. In both the state and federal systems in Colorado, public defender systems have been set up to handle most of these cases. Sometimes, the public defender cannot handle a particular case and a private lawyer is appointed to represent the defendant.
The case is presided over by a judge who conducts all court hearings, approves or rejects any proposed settlements of cases, and imposes a sentence in any case that results in a conviction. Criminal cases may be resolved through trial, or they may be settled through negotiations resulting in a plea bargain. Persons who are convicted at trial or through a guilty plea are then sentenced, under the relevant law, to a fine, probation, jail, prison or, in certain very limited cases, death.
A party that believes errors were made during this process may appeal the decisions to a 'higher' court. These higher courts are appellate courts that review the actions of the trial judge to determine whether any errors were committed and whether those errors affected the outcome. A defendant who is successful in getting a conviction reversed on appeal is returned to the trial court for a new trial or other appropriate proceeding.
Return to Table of Contents »