September 19, 2023
Navigating the Colorado court system is not an easy task. Forget figuring out your defense strategy. Just finding which court you will have to report to can be confusing. Denver specifically has multiple court systems that handle legal matters, including municipal courts, district courts, and more.
For this blog post, we will focus on municipal and district courts. Both of these courts deal with legal matters that take place within Colorado borders, and generally follow the same procedure, but there are a few differences that you should be aware of if you have to enter a municipal court as a defendant.
Things to Know about Municipal Court
Municipal courts are also known as city courts. They only handle crimes that are committed within city limits. Most state matters are handled in district courts. In Denver, the Denver court is considered both a municipal court and a county court, and plays by its own rules. The court in which the case is heard will depend on where the crime was committed, or the residence of the defendant.
Types of Crimes
Municipal courts take on less serious crimes, like shoplifting, traffic violations, or offenses that deal strictly with city laws. If you are found guilty, you won’t face more than $1000 in fines or a year behind bars. If an offense is more serious, or is dictated by Colorado state law, then the case will go to district court.
Most felony crimes are directed to district courts. District courts also typically handle juvenile crimes, probate cases, and have the power to hear civil claims and divorce cases. If the crime crosses state lines, or involves a federal agency, the crime will be taken out of the state court system and brought to federal courts.
Judges and Juries
City council members or the mayor presiding over that city chooses judges in municipal courts. These acting parties also determine how long the judge will serve and how they are compensated. The governor of Colorado chooses district judges after they have received a list of nominees. Each judge will preside over the court for six years.
When a case goes to municipal court, six jury members will hear the case. Twelve jurors are present for district courts. If you are nervous about facing a district court, defendants can take solace in the fact that larger groups are more likely to debate and think over a decision more than a smaller group. Research prefers larger groups making a decision in a court case.
Once the trial is over, the defendant has the right to appeal to a higher court. If the original case was heard in a municipal court, the appeal will be heard in a district court. If the original case was heard in a district court, the appeal will be heard by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The Colorado Supreme Court is the highest court in the state, and is the final stop for appeals.
Time It Takes to Hear a Case
Since the cases in municipal courts typically concern city laws like traffic or zoning violations, hearings in their courts typically go by faster. After giving a not guilty plea, defendants in a municipal court must affirm that they want a jury trial within 20 days of giving the plea, and must be heard within 90 days.
These deadlines are very important. Once the 20 days has passed, you will not be able to be heard by a jury. This may have a significant effect on your case. In a district court, the defendant must be tried within 180 days of giving a not guilty plea.
If you request a jury trial in a municipal court, you must pay a fee of $25. This fee does not exist in district courts.
No matter what court you are in, if you are accused of a crime, you have the right to legal counsel. Both courts have prosecutors present that will work to get you convicted or put behind bars. Fight back.
Although public defenders will be available through the court, it is best to seek out a private Denver defense attorney that has local knowledge and can dedicate time and effort to winning your case. Even though municipal court cases are typically less serious, you should not take them less seriously than a district court case. After all, if you end up losing the case, your appeal will move up to a district court anyway. Investing in a private attorney is an investment in your future.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.