Experienced Felony Defense Attorney Serving all of Colorado
A felony is a crime that is more serious than a misdemeanor crime, and conviction of one generally involves time in prison. Colorado criminal law defines a felony as an offense punishable by a state prison term of one year or more. Similarly, the federal government defines a felony as any crime that carries a federal punishment of one year or more of incarceration. If you have been charged with a state or federal felony in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the services of a Colorado Springs criminal defense attorney could be critically important to your future.
Classes of Colorado Felonies
Colorado criminal law divides felonies into classes based on the severity of punishment:
- Class 1 Felony: Death or life imprisonment (without parole). Examples include first degree murder and first degree kidnapping.
- Class 2 Felony: Four to 48 years in prison, a $5,000 to $1,000,000 fine, and a five-year mandatory parole period. Examples include attempted first degree murder and completed second-degree murder.
- Class 3 Felony: Two to 24 years in prison, a fine of $3,000 to $750,000, and a five-year mandatory parole period. Examples include vehicular homicide (intoxication leading to a fatal traffic accident) and sexual assault (rape).
- Class 4 Felony: One to 12 years in prison, a fine of $2,000 to $500,000, and a three-year mandatory probation period. Examples include felony DUI, stalking, and bribing a witness.
- Class 5 Felony: Six months to six years in prison, a fine of $1,000 to $100,000 and a two-year mandatory parole period. Examples include charitable fraud and criminal negligence.
- Class 6 Felony: Six month to three years in prison, a fine of $1,000 to $100,000, and a one-year mandatory parole period. Examples include promoting a pyramid scheme and failure to register as a sex offender.
- Unclassified Felony: A felony that has not been classified is punishable in the manner specified in the statute that describes it. If the statute does not mention punishment, then the punishment is up to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Examples include rioting in a detention facility and transporting hazardous waste without a permit.
- Drug Felony: Drug felonies are subject to their own system, classified from Level 1 to Level 4. The maximum Level 1 penalty is 32 years in prison, while the minimum Level 4 penalty is six months in prison (remember that not all drug offenses are felonies). The level at which the offense is charged depends largely on how the drug is scheduled (“meth” is Schedule I, for example), and how much of it you were caught with (more than 112 grams of “meth” is punishable as a Level 1 drug felony, for example).
The Inchoate Offenses
“Inchoate” means “incomplete.” Inchoate offenses refer to activities that become crimes before the intended act is completed. Some but not all of these crimes are felonies. The purpose of making these offenses illegal is to stop someone before he or she can do harm.
Attempt: “Criminal attempt” refers to attempted murder, attempted kidnapping, attempted arson, etc. Three elements must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt for the prosecutor to win a conviction – (i) you intended for the crime to occur (you intended to kill someone, for example), (ii) an overt act toward commission (buying a gun probably wouldn’t be enough, but breaking into the victim’s home with a gun may be enough) and (iii) failure to complete the intended crime.
Conspiracy: A conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime or, in some cases, a legal but harmful act such as an act of moral turpitude. The agreement doesn’t have to be in writing.
Solicitation: To be guilty of solicitation to commit a crime, you must (i) intend for the crime to be committed by someone else and (ii) utter words of incitement to the person you intend to commit the crime.
An inchoate offense is generally charged at the next class down from the underlying crime. An attempt to commit a Class 4 felony, for example, will be charged as a Class 5 felony.
The Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations sets a deadline by which the government must initiate a prosecution against you. If the government misses the deadline, charges are generally dropped. The statute of limitations deadline for most felonies, including felony DUI, is three years; however, in the case of serious crimes such as murder and kidnapping, there is no statute of limitations deadline – you can be prosecuted at any point in your lifetime, no matter how long ago the crime occurred.
An expungement can potentially erase the record of an arrest, charge, trial and/or conviction. Although an expungement can take a felony off your public record, this record will still exist and can still be used for law enforcement and certain other governmental purposes. The strongest candidates for expungement occur when:
- The crime was committed while the offender was a juvenile (expungements are usually successful).
- The defendant was acquitted.
- Felony charges were dismissed by the court.
Even in the aforementioned cases, an expungement is not guaranteed. Indeed, not all felonies are even subject to expungement.
The Court’s Sentencing Options
A Colorado judge enjoys a certain amount of discretion in sentencing, so that he or she can sentence a defendant fairly in light of the specific facts of the case. Some of the sentencing options in which a judge has the (limited) discretion to impose include:
- Prison with mandatory parole
- Sentencing to the Youth Offender System (for juveniles)
- A fine of $100 or more
- Confinement in a county jail (instead of a prison)
- House arrest
- Suspended sentence
Many activities, such as possession of certain recreational drugs, are illegal under both state and federal law. Some crimes, on the other hand, are exclusively state crimes as long as the activity does not cross a state line. Once a state line is crossed (from Colorado into Wyoming, for example), such an activity becomes a federal crime. Some crimes, such as IRS tax fraud and immigration fraud, are exclusively federal crimes. When a crime can be classified as either a state or a federal crime, the federal authorities can force Colorado to drop its prosecution in favor of the federal prosecution.
If you are prosecuted under federal law, you will be tried in federal court (most likely in Colorado) and your case will proceed under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence. Although these procedures are similar to Colorado procedures, certain differences exist that could potentially make a critical difference in your case. The federal government has its own system of classifying and punishing crimes called the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which in many cases imposes punishments that are harsher than those that Colorado criminal law imposes.
The federal government can prosecute an activity that is legal under Colorado but illegal under federal law. Possession of marijuana, for example, is legal in Colorado (subject to certain restrictions), yet still illegal under federal law and, in some cases, is a felony. Although theoretically the federal government could prosecute you for possession of marijuana regardless of Colorado law, the Obama Administration has indicated that the federal government will voluntarily refrain from prosecuting marijuana offenses that are legal under Colorado law.
Loss of Civil Rights
As a convicted felon, you lose three civil rights:
- The right to vote (until your prison time and parole are completed)
- The right to bear firearms (if your offense was non-violent, you can apply for restoration of these rights)
- The right to serve on a federal jury or a state grand jury
- The exclusionary rule: This rule allows you to exclude evidence from an illegal search or stop, which could leave the prosecutor with little evidence left upon which to base your prosecution. An illegal search, for example, might yield an illegal drug. Without the drugs as evidence, however, your prosecution fails.
- Self-defense/defense of others: You have the right to use reasonable measures to defend yourself or others from attack. This defense is frequently successful in domestic violence cases.
- Voluntary intoxication: Your defense would be that you were too intoxicated to have committed the crime. This is not an effective defense to DUI; however, it might be a good defense to a sexual assault charge.
- False accusation: This defense can be effective to the extent that the prosecution’s case is dependent on the testimony of an eyewitness.
There are many, many more potential defenses available, depending on the facts of your case.
Don’t let a temporary lapse in judgment put your freedom in jeopardy – you can fight back! My name is Christian Schwaner, and I am an experienced Colorado Springs criminal defense lawyer with a strong track record of success. As a former prosecutor, I know how the other side thinks. Due to my understanding of how the Colorado criminal justice system works, I have been successful in helping many people like you who are facing felony charges.
If you have been arrested for a felony in the Colorado Springs area, contact me at 719-577-9700 or through my online contact page. I provide a free initial consultation, and I can even visit you in jail if necessary.