Skip to main content
U.S. flag

We're working to improve and add to this site.

Felony Referrals

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 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 the impacts of 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. For our most serious offenses, the total number of filings remained relatively stable.




Our office works collaboratively with our law enforcement partners to ensure that investigators have the support that they need. However, while law enforcement needs probable cause to arrest an individual, our office will not file or maintain charges unless we have a reasonable likelihood of success at trial, which requires us to meet the much higher standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This metric reflects that Deputy DA's are making independent charging decisions based on their review of the case, but also working closely with investigators to ensure that their valuable time isn't wasted preparing filings on cases that fall short of our burden of proof.


Indicators

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.




Important note about race and ethnicity data: The information contained in this dashboard comes from a variety of sources and is NOT based on a consistent method of voluntary self-identification. Our goal for this indicator is to remain consistent with our overall rate of felony referrals which are declined, but we do not seek to engineer that outcome by treating similar cases differently based on a defendant's race or ethnicity. Each case is unique and is evaluated on an individual basis. This does, however, provide valuable information for us to try to identify root causes of disparity in the criminal justice system. We will continue to research these data points and seek to identify if there are consistent root causes of any differences.




Important note about race and ethnicity data: The information contained in this dashboard comes from a variety of sources and is NOT based on a consistent method of voluntary self-identification. We have specific concerns as it relates to identifying individuals of Hispanic ethnicity due to the way data has been historically captured. Our belief is that the data we have underrepresents Hispanic defendants and over-represents white defendants as a result. Despite these concerns on data accuracy, we believe we must engage in the public discussion around racial disparity in the criminal justice system and are providing the data we have while we work to make it more accurate.

Our goal for this indicator is to remain consistent with our overall rate of felony referrals which are declined, but we do not seek to engineer that outcome by treating similar cases differently based on a defendant's race or ethnicity. Each case is unique and is evaluated on an individual basis. This does, however, provide valuable information for us to try to identify root causes of disparity in the criminal justice system. We will continue to research these data points and seek to identify if there are consistent root causes of any differences.




In general, we would prefer to dismiss a case at the filing stage rather than later on in the life of the case. However, a later dismissal can occur for a variety of reasons that we often want to encourage, such as completion of a diversion program or the assigned prosecutor keeping an open mind and reviewing new information or evidence that may come to light. It can also be the result of witness availability, such as a victim relocating out of state.



The level of offense - whether felony or misdemeanor - is established by the Colorado Legislature. For example, theft of a motor vehicle with a value of less than $2,000 is a misdemeanor, but for a car valued at $10,000, it is a felony offense. Our charging decisions must sit within these guidelines, but prosecutors have the discretion in a variety of circumstances to consider things beyond the technical elements of a charge when discussing a potential plea bargain. This could include things like criminal history, a defendant's engagement in drug treatment or other rehabilitative efforts, as well as the wishes of a victim. Prosecutors are also aware that felony convictions can have a life-long impact on a defendant. Our office seeks to prioritize those cases where there is a greater risk to public safety or established history of escalating criminal conduct. For first-time offenders, this often (though not always) can result in treatment and rehabilitation without the lifelong consequences of a felony conviction.

Notes:

  • 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.