In the Colorado criminal court process, a pre-trial hearing (or pre-trial conference) is a court appearance in which (1) the court hears certain pre-trial motions, and (2) the prosecutor and defense attorney attempt to resolve the case, usually for a plea bargain. If the case does not resolve or get dismissed, the judge will set if for further proceedings. This may consist of another pre-trial conference or a jury trial setting.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense attorneys will address:
- 1. What is a Pretrial Hearing?
- 2. What is Discovery?
- 3. What are Pretrial Motions?
- 4. Should I Accept a Plea Deal?
- 5. What Happens After Pretrial Hearings?
After an advisement hearing and arraignment in Colorado, if the defendant enters a plea of “not guilty,” the judge will then schedule the next court date and the case proceeds to the pretrial phase. The first part of the pretrial phase of a criminal court case in Colorado generally begins with the initial pretrial hearing or pretrial conference.
Your criminal defense attorney should be given a copy of the information the Colorado DA has and intends to use against you in court. Your attorney will need to evaluate the evidence, look at the records, and review any other documentation. After reviewing all the evidence, your lawyer will have a better idea of the strength of the state's case.
Your attorney and the Colorado district attorney will be able to talk about the case and see if there is any chance to come to an agreement on the case. This will generally involve talking about the strengths and weaknesses of your case, mitigating circumstances, and other factors. In many cases, it may be preferable to agree to a plea bargain in order to avoid the maximum criminal penalties. However, in talking with the prosecutor, your attorney may discover how weak the state's case really is, and fight to have your case dismissed as soon as possible.
Discovery is the term for the pretrial phase of a case where the parties exchange documentation, records, and other types of evidence relevant to the case. For a criminal case, this generally includes:
- Police report
- Witness statements
- Video evidence
- Photographic records
- Medical records
- Audio evidence
- Physical evidence from the scene
- Chemical tests or lab reports
- Any evidence the prosecution intends to use at trial
In addition to any evidence the prosecution plans to use against you, the prosecutors must also disclose relevant evidence that is favorable to you, or exculpatory evidence. Depending on the type of case, discovery may include only a few sheets of paper, or hundreds of boxes of documents and physical evidence.
In some cases, your attorney may believe the Colorado DA has evidence they are not turning over or claim they are withholding the evidence for some valid reason. This may require filing discovery motions to compel the prosecutor to produce the evidence. The district attorney can even be sanctioned for improperly failing to comply with the discovery requirements.
Pretrial motions are intended to resolve issues or disputes in your case before it goes to trial. Once discovery is exchanged, your attorney should have a good idea of how strong your case is. They will understand what evidence the Colorado DA has against you and how they intend to use that if the case goes to trial. An experienced criminal defense attorney will also understand how to counter the Colorado DA's arguments, poke holes in the state's theories, and present evidence supporting your innocence.
Pretrial motions often include motions to suppress evidence. There are a number of ways your attorney can seek to suppress the evidence the state intends to use against you. This includes evidence that was gathered as part of an illegal search or seizure, statements made without proper Miranda warnings, or prejudicial evidence.
Your attorney will file pretrial motions and the prosecutor will generally file a response, with the judge deciding on the motions. If the judge grants a motion to suppress, the prosecutor may not be able to present the evidence to the jury. In some cases, successful pretrial motions may leave the prosecution left with nothing to use and your case may be dismissed.
A plea deal is where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or a number of charges in exchange for the prosecutor recommending a certain sentence, or dropping other criminal charges. The plea generally happens at a disposition hearing. Whether or not you should accept a plea deal can be a difficult decision.
The Colorado prosecutor has to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If they have a weak case against you, it may be better to try and take the case to trial. However, juries can be very unpredictable. After talking to your attorney, it may be better to accept a plea deal for a lesser sentence and fewer charges than take your chances of getting a harsher sentence after a trial.
Talk to your criminal defense attorney to learn about the potential benefits and drawbacks of a plea deal in your case.
Most cases are resolved during the pretrial process. However, if you have not accepted a plea deal and your case has not been dismissed, the next step in the Colorado criminal court process is to go to trial. The time between the end of the pretrial phase and the beginning of jury selection can take a few days or a number of months. This depends on the type of case involved, the complexity of the case, the number of parties involved, and the court's schedule. This is why it is important to have a criminal defense attorney who will keep you informed of the progress of your case throughout the process.
(Note that if a defendant is convicted at trial, he/she may file a motion for a new trial.)
Call us for help...
If you or a loved one needs help with the criminal court process in Colorado, please contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group. Our Colorado criminal defense lawyers have years of experience protecting clients accused of misdemeanor and felony criminal offenses. Dealing with a criminal arrest is a stressful experience, but you don't have to go it alone. Contact us for a free consultation.
Arrested in Nevada? See our article on Nevada pretrial laws.