The scope of criminal law is wider than many may realize and includes everything from premeditated murder to speeding tickets. On the least severe side of the spectrum are infractions and ordinance violations, which are generally penalized with only a fine and no jail time; in the middle, misdemeanors, which may lead to a fine or a year or more in jail; and on the most extreme end, felony charges, which could result in life in prison or even the death penalty.
Often, the difference between a misdemeanor and felony charge can be as simple as the weight (or value) of an illicit substance, the dollar amount of money at issue, or the degree of intoxication of a driver. If you've been charged with a felony in Colorado, you may be wondering what kind of future you could be facing. Read on to learn more about some of the various crimes charged as felonies in the Rocky Mountain State and the potential punishments for each.
What crimes are charged as felonies under Colorado law?
Class 1 felonies
This category is restricted to just a few major crimes against person and country: premeditated murder, kidnapping that results in the death or harming of the victim, and treason. Certain drug offenses are also classified as Level 1 drug felonies and can include the possession or sale of more than 4 ounces of heroin or meth or the provision of more than 2.5 pounds of marijuana to a minor. While recreational marijuana is now legal in Colorado, the sale of marijuana to minors is very much against the law.
Class 2 felonies
Being charged with the conspiracy to commit a Class 1 felony (like murder or treason) is in itself a Class 2 felony. Class 2 felonies can include the same elements of Class 1 felonies, but generally involve a "reckless" standard rather than a "deliberate" one. For example, cases of kidnapping in which the victim escaped unharmed and homicide committed recklessly rather than purposely are both Class 2 felonies, as are the most severe cases of sexual assault and human trafficking.
A Class 2 felony is the highest possible criminal charge for many property-related offenses, like pharmaceutical burglary, aggravated robbery, and the theft of more than $1 million. In addition, Level 2 drug felonies can include the possession or sale of more than 0.25 but less than 4 ounces of heroin or meth.
Class 3 felonies
This category encompasses a much wider variety of offenses, from security fraud to sexual assault of a child under the age of 15 (if the perpetrator is 4 or more years older than the victim). Other Class 3 felonies include first-degree arson, first-degree burglary, food-stamp trafficking, and the theft of property valued at more than $100,000 but less than $1 million.
What penalties could you face upon felony conviction in Colorado?
Felony convictions can carry steep penalties. If convicted of a Class 1 felony, the most serious category of crimes in the state, you could face life in prison or even the death penalty (along with a fine of up to $1 million).
Those who plead guilty to or are convicted of a Class 2 felony may be subject to between 8 and 24 years in prison, along with a fine of anywhere from $5,000 to $999,999. Certain Class 2 felonies (like those considered Crimes of Violence) may be subject to an enhancing charge that can lengthen this potential sentence.
Meanwhile, those who are adjudged guilty of a Class 3 felony will spend a relatively shorter period of time in prison—between 4 and 12 years. A felony conviction at this level can also subject you to a fine of $3,000 to $750,000.
Because the penalties for felony conviction can be so severe, it's crucial to seek legal counsel as early as possible. Raising a strong alibi defense and excluding any inadmissible evidence may be enough for an acquittal or mistrial, but trying to go this process alone can be a mistake that robs you of years of freedom.
Talk to an attorney for more personalized advice.