Colorado, like all states, divides crimes into misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are punishable by terms of 24 months or less in a county or local jail. Felonies are more serious crimes, punishable by state prison terms of one year or more.
Misdemeanors in Colorado may be designated as class 1, 2, or 3, or unclassified. Separate penalties apply to drug and traffic misdemeanors. (The state's misdemeanor sentencing provisions change in March 2022.)
Below are the classifications for general misdemeanors, as well as drug and traffic misdemeanors.
A class 1 misdemeanor is the most serious type of misdemeanor in Colorado. Class 1 misdemeanors are punishable by six to 24 months in jail, a fine of $500 to $5,000, or both. An exception applies to third-degree assault against certain first responders and health professionals, which carries a minimum sentence of 24 months and a maximum of 48 months in jail.
Other examples of class 1 misdemeanors include violation of a protection order, unlawful sexual contact, criminal mischief, and theft of property worth $750 to $2,000.
A class 2 misdemeanor carries a possible jail term of three months to 364 days, a fine of between $250 and $1,000, or both. Theft of property worth at least $300 but less than $750, criminal trespass, and invasion of privacy are class 2 misdemeanors.
Class 3 misdemeanors are the least serious misdemeanors under Colorado's laws, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of $50 to $750, or both. Prostitution, harassment, and fighting in public, for instance, are class 3 misdemeanors.
In Colorado, unclassified misdemeanors typically have different possible jail sentences and maximum fines as provided for in the laws that define the crimes. However, if a statute designates a crime as a misdemeanor but fails to classify it and set a penalty for it, the offense is punishable by up to 364 days in jail, a fine of as much as $1,000, or both.
Colorado law divides drug misdemeanors into level 1 and level 2. Level 1 drug misdemeanors are typically punishable by between six and 18 months in jail, a fine of between $500 and $5,000, or both. A level 2 drug misdemeanor conviction can result in up to 364 days in jail, $50 to $750 in fines, or both.
Different sentencing options apply for many drug possession misdemeanors committed on or after March 1, 2020. Level 1 drug possession misdemeanors—such as possession of more than six ounces of marijuana—are punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and:
Level 2 drug possession misdemeanors, including possession of between two and six ounces of marijuana, are punishable by a fine of up to $500 and:
Penalties increase for third and subsequent convictions of a level 1 or level 2 drug possession misdemeanor.
Traffic misdemeanors are divided into classes 1 and 2. A class 1 traffic misdemeanor carries ten to 364 days in jail, $300 to $1,000 in fines, or both. Class 2 traffic misdemeanors carry ten to 90 days in jail, $150 to $300 in fines, or both. Driving while texting that results in bodily injuries is a class 1 traffic misdemeanor. An example of a class 2 traffic misdemeanor is reckless driving.
While jail time is an option for misdemeanor convictions, judges often reserve jail time for repeat offenders or offenses involving violence or risk of harm. A judge may impose any of the following sentencing alternatives in lieu of jail or as a condition of avoiding jail: probation, deferred sentencing, home detention, and special restitution and community service programs. In some cases, the prosecutor's office may offer pretrial diversion, which allows an offender to avoid criminal court completely.
For offenders with substance abuse or behavioral health issues, the defendant might be eligible to participate in a problem-solving court, such as drug court, DUI court, mental health courts, or veteran's treatment courts.
A prosecutor may offer pretrial diversion to certain offenders. In a pretrial diversion agreement, the prosecutor holds off on prosecuting the case as long as the defendant complies with the terms of the diversion. Terms might include paying restitution to victims, attending treatment, or participating in educational, vocational, or other programs. If successful, the prosecutor drops the criminal charges. A violation, however, means the prosecution can proceed with the criminal case.
Deferred sentencing is similar, but here, the decisions are made by the judge. The defendant enters a guilty plea and the judge holds off on imposing a sentence. If the defendant successfully completes the conditions of the deferred sentence, the judge dismisses the charges and plea, and no conviction results. The judge may impose the sentence if a defendant violates the conditions.
A judge can also order a person to participate in a day reporting program or treatment or reentry programs as alternatives to jail. Another option for the court is to sentence a person to county jail but grant the person release privileges to work, seek medical treatment or therapy, attend school, or care for family members. With court approval, the defendant may be able to serve all or part of the jail time on home detention.
If the judge orders incarceration, the judge may hold off on sending the defendant to jail and instead place the person on probation for up to five years. The jail sentence hangs over the defendant's head as an incentive to comply with probation terms, such as maintaining employment, attending counseling, paying fines and restitution, abstaining from drugs, and in some cases, completing short jail stays. Upon successfully completing probation, the defendant will still have a conviction but avoid significant jail time. For a violation, the judge can modify the probation terms or revoke probation and send the person to jail.
Certain judicial districts offer problem-solving courts which address a defendant's underlying substance abuse or behavioral health needs through the efforts of a multidisciplinary team. The team generally consists of the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, probation, case manager, and treatment specialists. The defendant must agree to abide by the program expectations which often include frequent court appearances, treatment or counseling, and incentives and sanctions for compliance or noncompliance.
Colorado expanded eligibility for expunging or sealing criminal convictions in 2019. A defendant can file a motion to seal a class 2 or 3 misdemeanor or any drug misdemeanor two years after the completion of the case or sentence. The wait period increases to five years for a class 1 misdemeanor.
Certain misdemeanors are not eligible for sealing, including traffic misdemeanors, domestic violence crimes, and crimes of violence. More information can be found on the Colorado Judicial Branch website.
A statute of limitations is a time period during which the state must begin criminal prosecution. Charging a case after the statute has "run" enables the defendant to move to have the case dismissed. In Colorado, the district attorney typically must begin prosecution of misdemeanors within 18 months of committing the crime. Traffic misdemeanors, however, have a one-year statute of limitations.
All criminal convictions, even misdemeanor convictions for seemingly trivial crimes, have serious consequences. If you are charged with any crime, talk to an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney about your case. An attorney can explain the charges you are facing, how the assigned judge and prosecutor are likely to handle your case, and what to expect in court. An attorney can also determine what defenses apply in your case and how to present the strongest arguments to protect your rights and achieve the best possible outcome.
(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 16-5-401, 18-1.3-101 to -106, 18-1.3-201 et seq., 18-1.3-501 to -509, 24-72-706, 42-4-1701 (2021).)