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Colorado Criminal Justice Reform: A New Sentencing Scheme for Misdemeanor and Petty Offense

On Behalf of | Jan 26, 2022 | Criminal Defense

Starting March 1, 2022, a major overhaul of Colorado’s sentencing scheme for the lower categories of offense- misdemeanor and petty offenses- goes into effect. The new scheme only applies to offenses committed after the enactment date, so the old scheme will still apply to pre-existing criminal cases.

Under the current scheme, Colorado has three levels of misdemeanor offenses, each carrying different possible sentences.

  • In addition to a potential probation sentence, a Class 1 Misdemeanor carries 6-18 months (with an additional 6 months possible if the crime is classified as “extraordinary risk) in the county jail and/or a fine of $500 to $5,000.
  • A Class 2 Misdemeanor carries 3-12 months in the county jail and/or a fine of $250 to $1000.
  • A Class 3 Misdemeanor carries 0-6 months in the county jail and/or a fine of $50 to $750.

Petty Offenses have two classifications:

  • A Class 1 Petty Offense carries up 0-6 months in jail and/or a fine up to $500.
  • A Class 2 Petty Offense has a specific penalty depending on the crime.

The new sentencing scheme simplifies things, with only two classifications of misdemeanors, one classification of petty offense, and a new “civil infraction” penalty for the lowest-level offenses.

Under the new scheme, a Class 1 Misdemeanor is punishable by up to 364 days in jail or a fine of up to $1,000 or both; a Class 2 Misdemeanor is punishable by up to 120 days in jail or a fine of up to $750 or both. The single classification of Petty Offense is punishable by up to 10 days in jail or a fine of up to $300 or both. A civil infraction is punishable by a fine of up to $100.

With the new scheme, many offenses have been re-classified as misdemeanors, petty offenses, and civil infractions. At the same time, some offenses that were previously misdemeanors have been re-classified as felonies.

A much-needed reprieve comes for drivers, too

Nearly 100,000 Colorado residents enjoyed a happier New Year thanks to a new law that took effect on January 1. License revocation can still occur when drivers have excessive points for traffic violations.

With bipartisan support in the legislature, Colorado will stop driver license revocation due to:

  • Convictions of license, title, permit, or license plate misuse
  • Failure to register a car in the state
  • Missing a court appearance or failure to pay fees/fines involving traffic, municipal, or transit-related violations.
  • Conviction of offenses that includes underage possession of alcohol, providing alcohol to a minor, or criminal mischief theft

Colorado joins more than 20 states transitioning away from what they consider an archaic and overly punitive policy.

The solution comes from a need to avoid a “downward spiral” where their fellow state residents are free to drive to work. Without a driver’s license, they could lose their job. Colorado-based prosecutors also see benefits in freeing up the significant amount of time it takes to review countless DMV histories to identify a suspect’s ability or inability to pay fines.

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