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What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?

Colorado state law divides all crimes into either one of two categories. Relatively minor offenses are classified as misdemeanors, whereas more serious crimes are listed as felonies. Crimes such as first-time DUI and minor theft offenses are charged as misdemeanors, while felonies include crimes such as robbery, drug trafficking, rape, and murder.

What penalties can I receive if I am convicted?

The sentence available for different types of crimes depends on the specific offense and the severity of the crime. Generally, however, a sentence will include steep fines ranging into the hundreds or thousands of dollars, as well as time in county jail or state prison. If you are placed on probation, you can expect to be ordered to pay large fines in addition to costs for things such as drug or alcohol treatment, anger management counseling and perhaps an ignition interlock device in your vehicle. Even after the completion of your sentence, you would face a future of living with a criminal record that could prevent you from finding suitable housing or employment.

Will my case go to trial?

Colorado citizens have a right to a trial by a jury of their peers, and during this trial they are legally presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof in a criminal trial is on the prosecutor, meaning that it is necessary for the state to prove that you committed the crime. Fewer than 10 percent of criminal cases nationwide do go to trial, however, and the reasons for this are many. For one thing, prosecutors often pile on the charges and seek the toughest available penalty in an attempt to intimidate the defendant into pleading guilty. They do this in large part because the state has limited resources for trying defendants, and the courts are already overloaded with cases.

Most people who are charged with a crime will eagerly accept a plea bargain in hopes of sparing themselves the harsh consequences of a conviction, but this is often a mistake. By taking the case to trial, it is very often possible to win. Even if the case does not proceed to trial, preparing it for this outcome increases the likelihood that the prosecutor will be willing to drop the charges or to make an offer of deferred judgment, which allows the defendant to avoid a conviction by completing terms similar to probation.

What is a "plea bargain?"

As mentioned above, more than 90 percent of criminal cases are resolved prior to trial. A large percentage of these cases end in plea bargains. In a plea bargain, the defendant agrees to enter a guilty plea, which results in a conviction on the charges. This benefits the prosecutor, because the state is not required to carry out a full jury trial in order to secure a conviction. In exchange, the prosecutor agrees to reduce the charges in the case, or offers a lighter sentence or alternative sentencing regimen.

In the event that it is simply not possible to prove your innocence, a plea bargain may be the best available outcome to your case. Similar to a plea bargain is a deferred judgment. In this outcome, you initially enter a plea of guilty, after which you are ordered to complete some type of probationary terms such as paying restitution or attending classes or counseling. Upon your successful completion of these terms, the judge will then withdraw your guilty plea and dismiss the charges.

What does it mean to "plead the Fifth?"

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution secures your right against self-incrimination. You cannot legally be compelled to testify against yourself in criminal proceedings. This includes testifying during a trial, as well as speaking with police officers and detectives during the course of an investigation. Pleading the Fifth means invoking your right to remain silent, and it is something that you should do at all times. Law enforcement officers are trained to lead suspects into making self-incriminating statements and drawing out confessions.

Even seemingly innocent statements could end up being used against you as evidence. Before you agree to speak about the case, politely insist on having your criminal defense lawyer present to advise you of what questions you should and should not answer. The Fifth Amendment and other aspects of the constitution provide you with powerful legal protections, but they will do nothing for you unless you know how to use them. Let the team at The Evans Firm guide you through this situation and fight to protect your rights at every stage of the case. Contact us today or get a free case evaluation!

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