Charging and Filing
In Colorado, misdemeanors (including traffic cases) and petty offenses/infractions are filed directly with the court by law enforcement. Felony cases are first reviewed by the District Attorney's (DA) Office before filing. After reviewing and accepting a felony case, prosecutors decide what type of charges to file. This section presents data on all cases for which a law enforcement agency has filed the case (misdemeanors or petty offenses/infractions) or for which the DA’s Office has decided to accept the referral and file the charges (felonies).
Why is this important? To support community safety, we want to be able to maximize limited resources by focusing on serious crime while minimizing unnecessary punitiveness. Understanding the number and types of cases filed in the Office helps to ensure we use resources efficiently, effectively, and fairly.
The total number of cases filed each year took a sharp hit during 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In 2022, we appear to be trending closer towards the pre-pandemic filing levels we saw in 2017-2019. We will continue to closely monitor this trend.
2020 marked a dramatic shift in the number of felony offenses filed, falling from 5,372 in 2019 to 4,406 in 2020. A significant portion of this decrease comes from changes the legislature passed HB19-1263 which changed the level of offense for drug possession cases, meaning that many offenses which were previously a class 4 drug felony were reclassified as a misdemeanor. This change went into effect on March 1, 2020. That same month, Colorado began to see positive tests for COVID-19 which dramatically impacted how citizens interacted, as well as law enforcement and court operations. While the overall number of felonies filed moved lower, about 90% of this reduction occurred in the least serious felony offenses (F4, F5, F6, DF3, and DF4). 75% of the reduction occurred in a reduction in DF4 case filings alone - the lowest level of drug felony, which became misdemeanor offenses.
Below are a set of indicators that provide additional context about cases filed. These indicators help the DA's Office ensure they are prioritizing cases effectively and charging cases appropriately.
This metric has remained relatively consistent throughout the years even as we saw overall filings decrease during COVID-19 and have seen some crimes reclassified as misdemeanors. While felony cases do not make up a majority of the cases handled in our office, they do receive significantly more support in terms of experienced prosecutors, paralegals, investigations, and victim services staff due to their more serious nature and the lasting impacts on victims and the community.
The chart above displays the raw number of violent crime cases filed each quarter. That number has remained steady or trending slightly upward. This indicator corroborates what we see elsewhere in our data: reductions in felony case filings generally involve reductions in less serious cases. More aggravated offenses such as the violent crimes tracked here have not seen a similar decrease.
- Each case is represented once, by the top charge filed.
- Warrants are excluded (for all cases identified as a warrant).
- Cases do not map directly to criminal incidents. One incident can result in multiple arrests and cases – or multiple incidents could result in the arrest and prosecution of a single individual.
- For definitions of charge types included in the dashboard, see the full list in Technical Notes.