A felony referral to the District Attorney's (DA) Office occurs when law enforcement presents an individual suspected of a felony crime to review for potential charges, generally following an arrest. This section presents data on felony cases referred by law enforcement agencies to the DA’s Office for review. The DA’s Office decides whether to file charges – a formal accusation that a specific person has committed a specific crime – based on the evidence and reasonable likelihood of conviction.
Why is this important? The DA’s Office makes decisions based on the cases they receive from law enforcement; they are not responsible for arresting or citing individuals. The office may decide not to file a case for a number of reasons, such as acceptance into a pre-charge diversion program, insufficient evidence/investigation by law enforcement, or when the charges did not rise to the level of a crime.
2020 marked a shift regarding felony cases filed for two significant reasons; the impact of COVID-19 and changes in the legislature with HB19-1263. HB19-1263, which took effect of March 1, 2020, changed the level of offenses for drug possession cases, meaning that many offenses which were previously a class 4 drug felony were reclassified as misdemeanor offenses. That same month, Colorado began to see the impacts of COVID-19 which dramatically impacted how citizens interacted with each other, law enforcement and court operations. This is demonstrated with the overall numbers of felonies filed moving lower than previous years.
Our office works collaboratively with our law enforcement partners to ensure that investigators have the support. While law enforcement needs probable cause to arrest an individual, our office will not file and maintain charges unless we have a reasonable likelihood of success at trial, which requires us to meet the higher standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This metric reflects that deputy district attorneys are making independent charging decisions based on their review of the case.
Below are a set of indicators that provide additional context about felony referrals. These indicators help the DA's Office ensure they maximize government resources by making strategic decisions about which cases to accept for prosecution.
Click Here for more information about race and ethnicity data collection and limitations.
Race and ethnicity data is not based on a consistent method of voluntary self-identification. While we work on strategies to improve data collection, we believe it is important to engage in discussions around issues such as the ones highlighted in this metric. Our office is committed to a deeper study of these issues to better understand the root cause of disparity in the criminal justice system.
- Underlying data counts for each chart can be accessed through this link.
- Each referral is represented once.
- Warrants are excluded (for all cases identified as a warrant).
- Misdemeanor cases are directly charged and filed by the law enforcement agency; the DA does not review these cases for charging. The DA’s Office can dismiss misdemeanor cases (see Case Resolution dashboard).
- Law enforcement arrests and charges are based on a probable cause standard of proof, whereas the DA’s Office charges based on proof beyond a reasonable doubt.