CHAPTER 4: OVERVIEW OF A CRIMINAL CASE - Table of Contents
4.1 - Filing of Charges • 4.2 - Arrest and Custody • 4.3 - Advisement Hearings • 4.4 - Preliminary Proceedings • 4.5 - Plea Negotiations • 4.6 - Arraignment • 4.7 - Pretrial Motions • 4.8 - Overview of a Criminal Trial
Technically, arraignment is the entry of a plea. The plea may be a plea of guilty, not guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity or no contest.
When a defendant pleads guilty, the court must make sure that the defendant is doing so voluntarily and intelligently, with a full understanding of the rights he or she is giving up and with a full understanding of any plea agreement that has been reached in the case. After accepting a guilty plea, the court either imposes a sentence immediately (the procedure in most misdemeanors and traffic cases) or sets the case for a sentencing hearing in the future (the procedure in most felony cases). If the case is continued for sentencing, a pre-sentence report may be prepared by the probation department.
A plea of no contest, also known as a plea of nolo contendre, is a statement that the defendant is not contesting the issue of guilt or innocence but is acknowledging that there is sufficient evidence to establish guilt. In Colorado, a defendant may only plead no contest with consent of the court. There is no difference for sentencing purposes between a plea of no contest and a plea of guilty. Sometimes, defendants prefer a no contest plea because a guilty plea can have a binding effect against the defendant in civil proceedings.
A plea of not guilty is a denial of the charges and is accompanied by a request for a trial. The trial can be a trial to the court or a jury trial. In Colorado most criminal defendants have a right to a jury trial. As to the right to jury trials in municipal court, see C.M.C.R. 223(a). A defendant must file any applicable jury fee within the time limits imposed: within 10 days in municipal courts on all charges; in county court, within 10 days after arraignment unless crime charge has penalty for more than $500.00 fine or 6 months jail (in which case the defendant is entitled to a jury trial as a matter of right). A Defendant who is not able to afford the jury fee may apply to the court for a waiver of the fee. A plea of not guilty formally puts the prosecution to its burden of proving the guilt of the defendant as to each and every element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
A plea of not guilty by reason of insanity is a plea of 'admission and avoidance.' That is, this plea admits that the defendant committed the acts charged, but seeks to excuse the defendant from criminal liability on the ground that the defendant was insane. In Colorado, insanity is defined as an inability to distinguish right from wrong at the time of the commission of the act.
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