At Ready Law, we defend clients facing a full range of felony charges. In Colorado, the consequences of felony convictions cover a range from incarceration in the Colorado Department of Corrections (prison) for six months up to the death penalty. This distinction is one of many important differences between a misdemeanor and felony conviction. Most misdemeanors result in a sentence to time in the county jail, if any incarceration is ordered at all. Sentences resulting in time in prison are almost always based upon the more serious felony convictions.
There are six classes of felony charges in Colorado. Class one is the most severe charge, and includes those charges carrying a life sentence or even death. A class six felony is essentially one step up in severity from the most serious misdemeanor charges. The 3 classes of misdemeanor charges are ordered the same way, with a class one misdemeanor being the worst of that group. It can be difficult for someone who is not fully knowledgeable of all the applicable law to simply look at a chart to determine how much prison time they are facing based on the classification of their charge. When determining the prison time at issue in a case, it is important to be accurate. An accused must at least know what they are facing in order to make a good decision about how to proceed with their defense. As a starting point, the chart below shows guidelines without any consideration of any specific charges, exceptions, enhancers, etc:
|Class 1 Felony||Call our office|
|Class 2 Felony||>8-24 years|
|Class 3 Felony||4-12 years|
|Class 4 Felony||2-6 years|
|Class 5 Felony||1-4 years|
|Class 6 Felony||12-18 months|
The graph above, however, may not apply in your case. In many cases, it is incorrect. That is because of the many variations, enhancements, aggravators, and exceptions that are sprinkled throughout the criminal statutes in our state. Many charges include a broader range for each classification based upon “exceptional circumstances”. Exceptional circumstances can result in a term of incarceration that is half as long as the lower end displayed in the chart above, and maximums twice as long as those displayed above, for each class. Charges for extraordinary risk crimes result in longer maximum sentences for class three, four, five and six felonies. If a court finds that a conviction qualifies for aggravating circumstances sentencing, they are require to sentence from the midpoint or higher of the applicable range. Finally, prior convictions can completely change the applicable sentencing range.
Determining the accurate sentencing range for a particular set of charges can be complicated. It is essential that an accused speak with an attorney to determine an accurate sentencing range for their specific case. Do not simply rely upon the chart above to determine your own sentencing range. There is simply no substitute for having a professional review the charges and underlying evidence in your case and determine what the applicable range would be for your case.
Although a class six felony is technically one step above the wisest level misdemeanor, the difference between the two can be huge. Because the consequences of a felony conviction tend to be so much more severe than those of a misdemeanor conviction, most people accused of a low level felony will want their attorney to fully explore the possibility of obtaining an offer from the prosecution for a misdemeanor plea. Of course, that does not mean an accused is necessarily going to want to take a deal to avoid a felony conviction. Any consideration of a deal with the prosecution must include a thorough review of the strength of the prosecution’s case, and the likelihood of full acquittal at trial. Such agreements with the prosecution only happen when the accused determines, based on the specific facts of their case, the risk of trial is unacceptable to them. In such cases, having a felony charge resolve as a misdemeanor conviction can make a huge difference to the accused, as the consequences of felony convictions tend to be much more lasting.
Although potential time in prison is usually the primary concern for those facing felony charges, there are plenty of other serious and potentially life-changing consequences of a felony conviction to consider. Just as with most misdemeanor convictions, a fines and costs will be imposed. Those fines and costs range and differ based on the type and class of the charge, just as sentencing ranges do in general. Fines and costs can be expected to be higher depending on the seriousness of the case. Fines are generally imposed in addition to any jail or prison time imposed. Sometimes, costs can be higher if probation is imposed in place of jail or prison time, because the defendant is expected to pay the costs of any probation. As is explained below, probation almost always includes additional requirements, some of which have associated costs that would not apply if the accused were to do time in the Department of Corrections instead.
Probation and Parole
In many felony cases, courts have the option of sentencing to probation instead of prison time. Probation is a supervision program that usually requires the convicted person to check in with a probation officer to confirm that they have had no further contact with police, and are in compliance with any other terms of the probation. The probation officer is responsible for monitoring the compliance of the person on probation, and eventually to notify the court that the probation was either completed successfully, or a violation has occurred. Probation may include requirements that the convicted person not partake in alcohol or illegal drugs. The probation officer or the court will order monitoring in these cases. Probation may also include other requirements, like community service, or participation in programs intended to help the convicted person avoid future convictions, like anger management classes, domestic violence classes, or alcohol recovery programs. Probation itself can be very strict, requiring daily check-ins, ankle monitors, etc. Some people on probation reach a point that the probation officer only requires that the person remain out of trouble until the probation period ends.
Parole is similar in some ways to probation. However, probation is ordered instead of jail or prison. Parole is ordered when a prison term ends. Almost all prison sentences in Colorado include some period of parole at the end. Accordingly, it is important when considering the sentencing range, to know what the parole requirement is as well.
Those convicted of felonies also lose the right to vote until any sentence is fully completed. Those convicted of felonies may not vote while they are in jail or prison, or while they remain on parole after release from prison. Those on probation, in jail for misdemeanor offenses, in jail awaiting trial, or out on bond for a felony offense while awaiting trial are able to vote. Once a prison sentence and any parole is completed, the person convicted of a felony may re-register to vote. More information regarding restoration of voting rights is available at the Colorado Secretary of State website here:
After a felony sentence ends, perhaps the most troubling and ongoing impact of the conviction is the lingering record of the conviction itself. Almost every potential employer asks about prior felony convictions. Having to inform an employer of a felony conviction, even a very old one, can severely limit a person’s employment options. Obviously spending time in prison is disruptive in every possible way. However, even those sentenced to probation only can lose their jobs due to a felony conviction. All the various consequences of a felony conviction, even a minor one, cannot be adequately described here. The stakes simply don’t really get higher. If you are facing felony charges, it is almost certainly not the time to defend yourself without help. Call our office to discuss your case with an attorney who is experienced and passionate about defending felony cases.