FAQ: Understanding Colorado’s Probation Supervision System

FAQ: Understanding Colorado’s Probation Supervision System

FAQ: Understanding Colorado’s Probation Supervision System

by The Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm of H. Michael Steinberg

There are 22 judicial districts in the state and each judicial district operates a probation department. In addition to the supervision of offenders, the probation departments are also responsible for submitting pre-sentence investigation reports to the courts.

While not well understood by the public – the probation department – probation services are under the direction of the chief judge and chief probation officer in each judicial district. That means the probation department works for the Judge.

Certain non-violent offenders may be sentenced to probation by the court. The level of community supervision is determined according to the results of a risk assessment, a treatment assessment, and statutory and court-ordered conditions of probation.

• while only certain offenders are eligible for a sentence to probation, the sentencing court may waive these eligibility restrictions upon recommendation of a district attorney; in addition, the court may sentence an offender to probation and jail;

• specialized probation programs assist and supervise those offenders needing a higher level of supervision or specialized services while on probation.

Colorado’s Judicial Districts

The 63 counties in Colorado are apportioned into 22 judicial districts. Each judicial district has a probation department which provides probation services.

Probation Eligibility

All offenders are eligible to apply to the court to receive a sentence to probation, with the following exceptions:

• persons convicted of a class 1 felony;

• persons convicted of a class 2 petty offense;

• persons who have been twice previously convicted of a felony under Colorado law or any state or federal law. This threshold applies to convictions prior to the conviction for which the offender is applying for probation; and

• persons who have been convicted of one or more felonies in this state, any other state, or the United States within ten years of a prior class 1, class 2, or class 3 felony conviction.

The sentencing court may waive the restrictions on probation eligibility upon recommendation of the district attorney. The district attorney must show to the court that the defendant is a non-violent offender, as defined in Section 16-11-101 (1) (b.5) (II) (B), C.R.S. The district attorney must also demonstrate that any prior felony convictions were not for:

• crimes of violence, as defined in Section 16-11-309 (2), C.R.S.;

• manslaughter, as defined in Section 18-3-104, C.R.S.;

• second degree burglary, as defined in Section 18-4-203, C.R.S.;

• theft if the object of value is more than $500, as defined in Section 18-4-401 (2) (c), (2) (d), or (5), C.R.S.;

• a felony offense committed against a child, as defined in Articles 3, 6 and 7 of Title 18; or

• crimes committed in other states, that if committed in this state would be a crime of violence, manslaughter, second degree burglary, robbery, theft of property worth $500 or more, theft from a person by means other than the use of force, threat, or intimidation, or a felony offense committed against a child.

In addition to probation, the sentencing court has the power to commit the defendant to any jail operated by a county or city and county where the offense was committed. The length of the jail term may be for a set time, or for intervals, and is at the discretion of the court.

The total length of any jail commitment, continuous or at intervals, is not to exceed 90 days for a felony, 60 days for a misdemeanor, or 10 days for a petty offense. Offenders sentenced to a work release program are not subject to these time lines.

Probation Guidelines

Section 16-11-204, C.R.S., states that the conditions of probation shall be as the court, in its discretion, deems reasonably necessary to ensure that the defendant will lead a law-abiding life. Section 16-11-203, C.R.S., stipulates that the court may sentence an offender to probation, unless due to the nature and circumstances of the offense and due to the history and character of the defendant, the court determines that a sentence to the DOC is more appropriate. The statutes outline the factors that favor a prison sentence:

• there is undue risk that during the probation period the defendant will commit another crime;

• the defendant is in need of correctional treatment that is most effectively provided by imprisonment;

• a sentence to probation would unduly depreciate the seriousness of the defendant’s crime or undermine respect for the law;

• the defendant’s past criminal record indicates that probation would fail to accomplish its intended purposes; or

• the crime, the facts surrounding it, or the defendant’s history and character when considered in relation to statewide sentencing practices relating to persons in circumstances substantially similar to those of the defendant, do not justify the granting of probation.

When considering the factors above, the statutes further guide the sentencing court to weigh the following in determining whether to grant probation:

• whether the criminal conduct caused or threatened serious harm to another person or property;

• whether the offender planned or expected that his/her conduct would cause or threaten serious harm to another person or property;

• whether the defendant acted under strong provocation;

• whether the defendant’s conduct was justified by substantial grounds, although they were not sufficient for a legal defense;

• whether the victim induced or facilitated the act committed;

• whether the defendant has a prior criminal history or has been law-abiding for a substantial period of time prior to the offense;

• whether the defendant will or has made restitution to the victim;

• whether the defendant’s conduct was the result of circumstances unlikely to recur;

• whether the defendant’s character, history, and attitudes indicate he/she is unlikely to reoffend;

• whether the defendant is likely to respond favorably to probationary treatment;

• whether imprisonment would entail undue hardship to the defendant or the defendant’s dependents;

• whether the defendant is elderly or in poor health;

• whether the defendant abused a position of public trust or responsibility; or

• whether the defendant cooperated with law enforcement authorities in bringing other offenders to justice.

Once placed on probation, the court may, as a condition of probation, require that the defendant:

• work faithfully at suitable employment or pursue a course of study or vocational training to equip the defendant for suitable employment;

• undergo available medical or psychiatric treatment;

• attend or reside in a facility established for the instruction, recreation, or residence of persons on probation;

• support the defendant’s dependents and meet other family responsibilities, including a payment plan for child support;

• pay reasonable costs of court proceedings or costs of probation supervision;

• pay any fines or fees imposed by the court;

• repay all or part of any reward paid by a crime stopper organization;

• refrain from possessing a firearm, destructive device, or any other dangerous weapon;

• refrain from excessive use of alcohol or any unlawful use of a controlled substance;

• report to a probation officer at reasonable times, as directed by the court;

• remain within the jurisdiction of the court, unless granted permission to leave;

• answer all reasonable inquiries by the probation officer and justify to the officer any change of address or employment;

• be subject to home detention;

• be restrained from contact with the victim or victim’s family members for crimes involving domestic violence; and

• satisfy any other conditions reasonably related to the defendant’s rehabilitation.

In addition, offenders convicted of an offense involving unlawful sexual behavior or for which the factual basis involved an offense involving unlawful sexual behavior must, as a condition of probation, submit to and pay for a chemical blood test to determine the genetic markers.

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