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How a Juvenile Case Works

Juvenile cases generally require a court appearance.  This section explains the various phases of a juvenile case:

HOW A CASE STARTS

The police officer issues a summons and complaint when they believe a person under the age of 18 committed an offense. Sometimes they write a report which summarizes the events leading up to the summons and complaint and provides witnesses names and other relevant information.

THE ARRAIGNMENT

The Arraignment is the first time the defendant will appear in court. A parent or legal guardian must appear with the defendant or the case cannot be heard.

At the Arraignment, the Judge tells the defendant the charges, his or her constitutional rights, and possible penalties.

The defendant may respond to the charges by entering a plea. Pleas include guilty and not guilty.

  • Not Guilty means the defendant says he or she did not commit the crime and they want to go to trial.
  • Guilty means the defendant admits he or she committed the crime. The Judge accepts the guilty plea and enters the conviction in the court record.

At the Arraignment, the defendant may be offered a chance to participate in a Diversion Program. If the defendant successfully completes the program, the case will be dismissed.

At Arraignment, the defendant may enter a plea of guilty to an agreed upon plea bargain. A plea bargain is an agreement between the defendant, his or her attorney if applicable, and the City Attorney, which may include a reduction of the charges, dismissal of some charges, or agreement on sentencing.

AFTER ARRAIGNMENT

If the defendant decided to participate in the Diversion Program, the defendant and their parent or legal guardian must complete an intake process so a case plan can be created for the family. Case plans can include in-house groups such as drug and alcohol prevention, and referrals to community-based organizations for counseling and behavior modification classes. The defendant will be given a period of time to complete the Diversion Program. If completed successfully, the case will be dismissed without court fees or fines.

If the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, the case is scheduled for a Court Trial. Jury Trials are not an option in County Court juvenile cases.

In between the Arraignment and the Trial, the defendant or the defendant’s attorney have the right to have access to information the City Attorney’s Office will rely upon to prosecute the case. This is called “discovery”. The City Attorney provides discovery in juvenile cases. Contact the City Attorney’s Office at (720) 913-8050 to request discovery.

SETTING A TRIAL

Everyone accused of a crime is legally presumed to be innocent until they are convicted, either by being proven guilty at a Trial or by pleading guilty prior to Trial. This means that it is the City Attorney who has to convince the Judge that the defendant is guilty and must provide proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant has the right to remain silent and that silence cannot be used against him or her.

The law says how soon a defendant must be brought to Trial. For juvenile defendants, the Trial must be held within 90 days of the defendant’s not guilty plea.

The defendant may waive (give up) the right to a speedy trial. This means the defendant agrees to have the Trial after the required deadline.

WHAT HAPPENS AT TRIAL

The City Attorney will be present at the Court Trial. The defendant may hire an attorney to represent him or her, or the defendant can choose to represent themselves. If the defendant chooses to represent themselves, their parent or guardian cannot speak on their behalf unless they are giving testimony under oath.

During the Trial both sides can:

When the case is called, the defendant and their attorney should step to the counsel table. The Judge will ask if either side has an opening statement. The City Attorney will go first, then the defendant or their attorney.

The City Attorney will present their case first by calling witnesses. After each witness testifies, the Judge will ask the defendant or the defendant’s attorney if they want to cross-examine the witness. This means the defendant or their attorney can ask the witness questions about matters brought up in the witness’s testimony and other related matters concerning the case. It does not mean introducing defense testimony at that time.

After hearing the prosecution witness testimony, the defendant may want to waive the right to remain silent by testifying to their version of the facts in their defense. If the defendant chooses to testify, they may be asked questions (cross-examination) on matters they brought up in their testimony. The defense may also call witnesses on the defendant’s behalf and present evidence such as photographs, charts, or other written material.

After all witnesses have testified, the Judge will ask if either side wishes to make a closing statement. The City Attorney goes first, then the defendant. The City Attorney is then given the opportunity to make a final statement.

Defendants representing themselves should come to Trial prepared. They should:

  • Understand the charges (violation) against them. Defendants can read the charges in the Denver Revised Municipal Code (D.R.M.C.) or the Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.).
  • Prepare a list of questions to ask witnesses and the prosecution witnesses’ during cross-examination.
  • Bring evidence they want to give to the Judge.
  • Subpoena witnesses if they want to require someone to come to court to testify and bring documents. Subpoenas free, however, serving the subpoenas is at the defendant’s expense.

THE VERDICT

If the Judge finds the defendant not guilty, it is called an “acquittal.” The defendant can never be tried again for the same crime. This is called “double jeopardy.” A finding of not guilty is not the same as a finding of innocence. It simply means that the Judge was not convinced that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The arrest will still show on the defendant’s record, along with the acquittal. If a defendant was wrongfully arrested and charged, and he or she wants the arrest removed from his or her record, the steps necessary are outlined in the Cleaning Up Your Record section of this website.

If the defendant is found guilty, the defendant will be sentenced.

SENTENCING

Sentencing occurs either after a plea of guilty is entered or after a finding of guilty by a Judge. This is when the Judge decides what punishment the defendant will be given. Before deciding the punishment, the Judge may have a report prepared by the probation department and a Sentencing Hearing will be set at a later date. It is the defendant’s responsibility to report to the probation office for an interview. The defendant has a right to speak on his or her behalf at sentencing and may present witnesses on his or her behalf.

A juvenile defendant could be sentenced to the Juvenile Work Program, behavior modification classes, probation, useful public service, or be given fines, costs or restitution to pay.

APPEAL PROCESS

If you are found guilty after a Trial, you have the right to an appeal process. There are many reasons for an appeal, but appeals are very difficult. It is wise for the defendant to talk to a lawyer to determine what is best. For more information on the appeal process, go to the Appeals Section of this website.

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