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Sentencing

After an individual is found guilty of a crime, a judge imposes a sentence which may include fees, fines, community service, probation, jail, community corrections, or prison. The prosecutor and defense attorney on the case provide recommendations to the judge, who decides on the ultimate sentence. In many cases, these recommendations may come in the form of a plea agreement which the judge can decide to accept or reject. This section presents information on sentencing by the most severe sentence imposed on the case. 

Why is this important? Colorado Revised Statutes 18-1-102.5 identifies the purpose of the law with respect to sentencing. These considerations include 1) punishment in relation to the seriousness of the offense; 2) fair and consistent treatment of offenders; 3) preventing crime and promoting respect for the law; 4) promoting rehabilitation; 5) a sentence that addressed the offender's individual characteristics; and 6) promoting acceptance of responsibility and accountability.



As you review the sentencing data below, it is important to read these metrics in conjunction with the other information provided on this website. For example, the chart below deals with sentences imposed on felony convictions. You may also wish to consider additional metrics such as how felony cases resolved (ie: the percentages that were dismissed or reduced to misdemeanor offenses) for greater context and insight into these numbers.




This metric represents a percentage of defendants going to prison that seems to be increasing, and it is increasing as a percentage of felony sentences. But, remember, the overall number of felony filings - particularly less serious felonies - has decreased dramatically in recent years. In light of that, we would expect to see the percentage sent to prison trending upward, as more serious cases now represent a higher percentage of the felony cases we handle.



Over the past few years, a number of felonies have been reclassified as misdemeanors, all while we have struggled to come through the COVID-19 Pandemic which put tremendous pressure on our jail. We will continue to study this indicator to better understand whether we are truly seeing a trend in sentencing, or if this is simply a reflection of additional crimes that were once felonies now being handled in a manner we might expect absent the COVID-19 pandemic.



Recidivism is a challenging area of study but an important benchmark for our office. When someone is placed in a community-based sentence such as probation, we want to ensure that the community remains safe. While we are encouraged that this recidivism rate is on a downward trend, we want to continue to evaluate our decisions on case management to reduce recidivism even further.

If you would like additional data from a statewide perspective on recidivism, the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice publishes data on interactive dashboards that may provide additional context.


Indicators

Below are a set of indicators that provide additional context about sentencing. These indicators help the DA's Office ensure they are ensuring fairness in the type and severity of sentences imposed, reducing unnecessary pretrial detention, and avoiding unwarranted incarceration without compromising public safety.



We will continue to monitor and study this indicator over time as we see the impacts of changes Colorado's criminal law. It may be helpful as you review this indicator to review the distribution of the types of cases that were filed by our office. You can find that information here.




In some cases, Community Corrections is an important tool to help build skills or address treatment needs. However, it is a community-based sentence, and is not appropriate in every case. We will continue to monitor this metric while taking into account the criminal history of each defendant, the input from victims, a defendant's interest in treatment and rehabilitation, and the types of charges involved.




If successfully completed, a deferred judgment can result in a case being dismissed and a defendant having no permanent criminal record, while a sentence to traditional probation generally involves a conviction. Our office carefully reviews each case and each defendant before making a decision on whether a deferred judgment is an appropriate outcome on a case.





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 will continue to study this metric along with other data points as we evaluate disparity and disproportionality in the criminal justice system.




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. While this chart indicates that hispanic defendants are incarcerated at a lower rate than white defendants, that may not be the case. We will continue to study this and other data points as we evaluate disparity and disproportionality in the criminal justice system.




Our office is committed to ensuring that defendants have equal access to justice regardless of their economic status. However, Defendants to not complete detailed surveys of their economic status. Examining cases based on whether a defendant is represented by the public defender or by private counsel is one way to gain some insight into potential economic disparity.

Public Defender Qualification: In Colorado, incarcerated defendants are automatically appointed a public defender for as long as they remain in custody. Out-of-custody defendants must apply and meet federal indigence requirements to qualify for a public defender. Therefore, there is the potential for public defenders to be representing individuals accused of more serious crimes.



In addition to the public defender data above, this is another attempt to examine potential socioeconomic disparity in the criminal justice system. We will continue to monitor this metric in the coming years to see what trends, if any, emerge.

Pretrial Detention Indicators

Below are a set of indicators that provide additional context about pretrial detention, incarceration in jail prior to case resolution. These indicators help the DA's Office ensure the reduction of unnecessary pretrial detention.






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. However, this metric warrants significant further investigation. In our largest counties, we frequently rely on risk assessment tools prepared by pretrial officers that help us assess the risk to the community and the likelihood that a defendant will appear in court. We should further study whether these rates of detention are driven by charges, risk assessment, access to economic resources, or some other factor.


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 under-represents Hispanic defendants and over-represents white defendants as a result.

However, this metric warrants significant further investigation. In our largest counties, we frequently rely on risk assessment tools prepared by pretrial officers that help us assess the risk to the community and the likelihood that a defendant will appear in court. We should further study whether these rates of detention are driven by charges, risk assessment, access to economic resources, or some other factor.

Notes:

  • This data reflects only those cases where a sentence was ultimately imposed. Cases that resulted in diversion, an outright dismissal, or some other resolution, are not reflected here. 
  • This data represents initial sentences only, sometimes a case may have a subsequent sentence in cases because of a revocation of probation or due to a request to modify the sentence. Those subsequent sentences are not represented here.
  • Warrants are excluded (for all cases identified as a warrant).