Number of Cases Filed, by Charge Level
The 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office is committed to holding people accountable for the crimes they commit, but also protecting the victims involved with these crimes. Understanding trends in case filings is one way to address the stem of these issues, and work towards solutions that reduce criminal filings, or better understand the root causes of increases in certain crimes.
While much of the nation and Colorado have seen a rise in various crimes, the increase in misdemeanors in the 5th Judicial District since 2019 has caught our interest. While at the moment we are unable to pinpoint the precise cause of this increase, this spike in misdemeanors means that the DA’s Office has been filing and prosecuting more cases since 2019.
The data does not indicate that the rise in misdemeanors is due to changes in how we are filing or charging individuals. The rate of felonies filed, including violent offenses, has stayed relatively steady over time. Furthermore, the slight decrease in felonies filed since 2018 is aligned with the increase in percent of felony referrals declined over that period.
These misdemeanor cases may be the result of many different factors or a combination thereof --the DA’s office is filing and prosecuting more cases --people are committing more crimes at this level than just three years ago --there may be a trend in how we are charging individuals at this level --or, there may be exterior factors that can account for this increase.
As such, this data warrants further analysis: We want to look into whether there are common locations where these crimes are being committed; whether there are any similarities in either defendants and/or victims of these crimes; whether any changes in the law can account for an increase in these crimes; and/or, whether any exterior factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, may have contributed to an increase in these crimes.
As we looked into the data a bit further, there were 3,130 traffic cases in 2020 which greatly contributed to this marked increase in misdemeanors cases being charged across the four-county district. This is quite a contrast to what was charged between 2017 and 2019.
In 2019 our office filed 978 traffic cases. In 2020 this spiked to 3,130.
The other interesting piece of data we found was that in 2021 those cases began to decrease slightly. There were almost 300 fewer cases in 2021 than there were in 2020. Additionally, that downward trend has continued into 2022.
The two counties that account for the bulk of the increase in misdemeanor cases in 2020 originated in Clear Creek and Eagle Counties. Clear Creek County houses the I-70 gateway into the mountains from the metro area, while Eagle County is a major resort destination for Coloradans trying to get out of the city and visit the mountains. Increased recreational travel into the I-70 mountain corridor during the COVID-19 pandemic may have had an impact on this increase in misdemeanor cases.
Since 2017, the number of prosecutors staffing the 5th Judicial District has remained steady. Therefore, this recent spike in misdemeanor cases has caused attorneys to carry larger caseloads and feel overburdened. These increased caseloads take staff time that could be more intentionally used to work on more serious cases, including violent crime.
As a next step, our office will examine:
- The timeliness of misdemeanor and traffic case resolution to consider how we can more rapidly identify and resolve these cases (to ease caseloads).
- Associated dispositions for traffic/misdemeanors