When can Minors (Juveniles) Face Trial in Adult Court in Colorado?

minor (juvenile) can face trial in an adult court in Colorado when certain factors are present. These factors include:

  • the juvenile's age,
  • the severity of the offense,
  • the juvenile's history of delinquency, and
  • the district attorney's determination to transfer the case from juvenile court to district court.

Generally speaking, the likelihood of a minor being tried as an adult increases as:

  • the person's age increases,
  • when the offense is more serious, and
  • the child has a past history of delinquency.

Juvenile Charges

Under Colorado juvenile crimes law, individuals who are under the age of 18 who are charged with a crime are tried as juveniles in juvenile court. Juveniles are treated differently than adults, especially in terms of punishment. In place of strict punishment for juveniles, courts may impose punishment designed to:

  • implement measures to fulfill the goals of a child,
  • help children avoid future interaction with law enforcement, or
  • improve the child's environment.

Transfer v. Direct File

Depending on the offense, a criminal case against a minor can be filed:

  • directly in an adult court, or
  • be filed in juvenile court but later transferred to adult court.

Before a Colorado prosecutor may directly file a case in adult court against a minor, certain strict requirements must be met. The burden to transfer a case is not quite as difficult, but still requires very particular findings.

Below, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about minors who are charged as adults:

  • 1. What is a minor?
    • 1.1 Why does the age of the accused matter?
  • 2. When can a juvenile be tried as an adult in Colorado?
  • 3. At what age can a minor be tried as an adult?
  • 4. Can a juvenile be charged directly in adult court?
    • 4.1 What is a direct file?
    • 4.2 If the case is directly filed, can it be put back in juvenile court?
    • 4.3 Are additional charges prosecuted in the same directly filed action?
  • 5. What is a transfer?
Juvenile 20arrest
A minor (juvenile) can face trial in an adult court in Colorado when certain factors are present.

1. What is a minor?

A minor, or juvenile, is a person who is under the age of 18. [1] In some cases, a minor will be treated as an adult for purposes of criminal charges and sentencing.

1.1 Why does the age of the accused matter?

For most criminal cases with defendants under the age of 18, that individual will be tried in a juvenile court. Juvenile courts are different in terms of:

  • the purposes of sentencing,
  • the criminal procedure and process, and
  • the potential penalties -- which are often less severe -- for convicted crimes.

Juvenile courts also seek to:

  • implement measures to fulfill the goals of a child,
  • help children avoid future interaction with law enforcement, and
  • attempt to improve the child's environment.

2. When can a juvenile be tried as an adult in Colorado?

In certain cases, a person under the age of 18 may be tried as an adult for his or her crimes. When deciding whether to try a minor as an adult, four factors are considered:

  1. the juvenile's age,
  2. the severity of the offense,
  3. the juvenile's history of delinquency, and
  4. the district attorney's determination to transfer the case from juvenile court to district court. [2]

The likelihood of a minor being tried as an adult increases as:

  • the person's age increases,
  • when the offense is more severe, and
  • the child has a past history of delinquency.

3. At what age can a minor be tried as an adult?

Under Colorado law, a minor as young as the age of 12 can be tried as an adult if he or she faces class 1 felony or class 2 felony charges.

The younger a child is, the less likely it is he or she will be tried as an adult. However, this depends on the circumstances and above-listed factors the court considers.

4. Can a juvenile be charged directly in adult court?

Juveniles are charged as adults in one of two ways:

  • directly in an adult court, or
  • the case is filed in juvenile court but later transferred to adult court.

4.1 What is a direct file?

direct file of a case starts the case in the adult court even though the defendant is under the age of 18.

A district attorney may file charges directly in adult court if the juvenile was 16 years or older at the time of the offense and:

  • is alleged to have committed a class 1 or 2 felony; or
  • is alleged to have committed a sexual assault that is a crime of violence or a sexual assault under the circumstances described in C.R.S. section 18-3-402 (5) (a); or
  • is alleged to have committed a felony enumerated as a crime of violence, or sexual assaultsexual assault on a child, or sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust; and
  • has a prior adjudicated felony offense; or
  • has previously been subject to proceedings in the district court as a result of a direct filing or transfer. [3]     

4.2 If the case is directly filed, can it be put back in juvenile court?

If a case is directly filed in adult court, your attorney can file a motion for a reverse-transfer hearing. The case will be transferred to juvenile court if the court decides that the case is:

  • better served in the juvenile court, or
  • the requirements for a direct file are not met.

4.3 Are additional charges prosecuted in the same directly filed action?

Yes, most likely. If there are additional charges arising out of the same criminal act or series of criminal acts, then those additional charges -- even if they do not rise to the seriousness of the offense that caused the direct file -- must be prosecuted in the same action.[4]

In Denver district court, however, if the minor's offense allowing the direct file is dismissed, Denver district court loses subject matter jurisdiction over any other additional charges that were not eligible for direct file. As such, Denver juvenile court retains exclusive jurisdiction over the charges.[5]

5. What is a transfer?

transfer occurs when the case is originally filed in juvenile court, but the district attorney wishes to move the case to adult court. A case may be transferred to adult court under two circumstances:

  1. the child is 12 or 13 years of age at the time the commission of the offense and the offense -- if committed by an adult -- constitutes
    • class 1 felony,
    • class 2 felony, or
    • a crime of violence; or
  2. the child is 14 years of age or older at the time the commission of the offense and -- if committed by an adult -- the offense constitutes a felony. [6]

Before a case is transferred, the juvenile court must determine whether it is in the best interests of the child or the public to transfer the case to adult court. If the court decides that it is not in the best interests to transfer the case, it will not do so. Note also that Colorado has a process to seal and exunge juvenile criminal records

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Call us for help...

For questions about when minors can be tried as adults or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our Colorado juvenile crimes defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group. (For cases in California or Nevada, please see our article on transfer hearings to charge juveniles in adult court in California and prosecuting juveniles in adult court in Nevada.)

We represent clients in and around Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, and several nearby cities.

Legal References:

  1. C.R.S. § 19-1-103(18).
  2. Office of Legislative Legal Services. When a Child Can be Tried as an Adult.
  3. C.R.S. § 19-2-517.
  4. See, People v. Jiminez, 651 P.2d 395 (Colo. 1982).
  5. See, People v. Sandoval, 2016 COA 57, 383 P.3d 92 (decided under law in effect in 2007).
  6. C.R.S. § 19-2-518.

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