In Colorado criminal cases, the sentencing hearing is the court process where the judge decides the defendant’s penalty. The sentencing hearing comes after a defendant is found guilty of committing a crime (either by entering a plea agreement at the disposition hearing or by being found guilty at trial). Penalties can include
- jail time,
- a suspended sentence,
- educational classes, and
- victim restitution payments.
Sentencing may include mandatory minimum sentences, sentencing guidelines, or be left up to the discretion of the judge.
In this article, our Denver Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:
- 1. What is a Sentencing Hearing?
- 2. What Are My Rights During a Sentencing Hearing?
- 3. What Are the Criminal Sentences After a Conviction?
- 4. When Do You Go to Jail After Sentencing?
- 5. Can I Avoid Jail Time After a Conviction?
1. What is a Sentencing Hearing?
The sentencing hearing is where a criminal court judge hears testimony and evidence relevant to determining what kinds of criminal penalties they will hand down to the defendant. A sentencing hearing comes after the defendant is convicted, either through a guilty verdict at trial, or pleading guilty or no contest as part of a plea bargain.
The sentencing hearing will generally involve the defendant, their defense attorney, the prosecutor, the judge, and in some cases, the victim. You and your attorney should be focused on getting the best possible sentence. This may mean a minimal time in jail or avoiding incarceration completely.
During the sentencing hearing, your criminal defense attorney will present arguments and information to the judge on your behalf. This could include recommending alternatives to jail, including probation, drug or alcohol counseling, or educational programs. These alternatives may be a better way to rehabilitate a defendant.
The defendant’s attorney may also present supporting evidence that the defendant is not a danger to the community, they regret their actions, and they are not going to commit similar crimes in the future.
It may also be important to address the negative factors in your case. If you don’t bring them up, then chances are the district attorney will. By addressing the negatives, you can offer an explanation, and agree to seek help to address the underlying problems. This may help diminish the prosecutor’s arguments for a harsher sentencing decision.1
If applicable to the case, the judge will also consider the recommendations in the defendant’s PSI (pre-sentence investigation) prepared by the probation department.
2. What Are My Rights During a Sentencing Hearing?
You have the constitutional right to be present during your sentencing hearing. You can also have your attorney represent you during the sentencing. You also will have the opportunity to argue for a certain penalty, including an alternative sentence. However, the prosecutor will also have a chance to be heard and give their reason for seeking a recommended sentence.
The evidentiary rules are somewhat relaxed in a sentencing hearing compared to a jury trial. Some evidence may have been excluded during a motion to suppress evidence. However, the judge may be able to consider such evidence as part of the sentencing hearing.2
3. What Are the Possible Sentences After a Conviction?
Criminal sentence ranges after a conviction depend on the level of offense, type of crime, criminal history of the defendant, and other factors. Sentencing can include any number of penalties and restrictions, including:
- Jail time
- Fines and fees
- Victim restitution
- House arrest
- Drug and alcohol counseling
- Anger management counseling
- Community service
- Submitting to drug testing
- Submitting to warrantless searches
- Registration as a sex offender
In Colorado, higher level crimes generally have harsher penalties, with petty offenses among the least serious charges, followed by misdemeanors, and felonies. Class 1 misdemeanors generally have a maximum penalty of up to 18 months in jail. However, some Class 1 felonies carry the possibility of life in prison or the death penalty. Crimes of violence and sexual assault often carry the most severe penalties.
Most criminal offenses in Colorado are subject to a range of penalties, including minimum and maximum prison sentences and fine amounts. However, depending on the situation, aggravating or mitigating factors can increase or reduce the standard penalty. Aggravating factors include criminal history, injury or death of another, the scope and extent of the crime, and the specific victim. Mitigating factors can include a minor role in the crime, lack of harm, remorse, drug or alcohol addiction or the incident represented the first time the defendant had any problem with the law.3
4. When Do You Go to Jail After Sentencing?
If you have been sentenced to incarceration after a conviction, you will end up going to jail. However, when you go to jail depends on your situation. In some cases, after the sentencing hearing, the defendant will immediately be taken into custody and taken to jail. Alternatively, the defendant may be given a future commitment date.
Whether you will go to jail directly after sentencing depends on the situation. If the defendant is deemed a flight risk or if they have been convicted of a felony or violent crime, they are more likely to be taken into custody. For non-violent offenses, misdemeanors, and shorter jail sentences, there is a greater chance the defendant will be given a future date to show up to begin their sentence. However, you may need to renew your bond to remain out of custody.4
5. Can I Avoid Jail Time After a Conviction?
There are many factors that go into your sentencing and it is not always possible to avoid jail time. Some criminal offenses have a mandatory minimum prison sentence. However, your attorney can work to get alternative sentencing instead of jail time. This could include house arrest/home detention, probation, community corrections, or agreeing to participate in mental health treatment or education programs. (Violating your conditions of probation could result in you being remanded to jail or prison.)
Additionally, you may be able to appeal your case to a higher Colorado court. Final judgment is entered after sentencing, at which point you can appeal your case. Appeals can be more complex than the initial trial, so you should talk to your attorney about whether you should file an appeal and if you have grounds for an appeal.5
Call us for help…
If you or a family member needs help is facing criminal charges, contact our Colorado law firm. We fight criminal cases throughout Colorado state including Denver, Boulder, Arapahoe County, Jefferson County, Douglas County, and more. We defend against all types of cases including DUI, sex offenses, domestic violence, theft, juvenile delinquencies, restraining order violations, probation violations, and more.
Read our related articles on the Colorado criminal law court process, pretrial hearings, preliminary hearings, probation revocation hearings, mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and expungements.
- See CRS 19-2.5-1102.
- See People v. Padilla (Colo. 1995) 907 P.2d 601.
- CRS Title 18, Article 1.3.
- See our article on Colorado Jails A – Z. Colorado Department of Corrections.
- See, for example, People v. Woellhaf (Court of Appeals of Colorado, Division Five, 2007) 199 P.3d 27.