5.1 - Sources of Criminal Law and Procedure5.2 - Criminal Law - Title 185.3 - Criminal Procedure - Statutes and Rules5.4 - Juvenile Proceedings5.5 - Traffic Offenses - Title 425.6 - Municipal Ordinance Violations5.7 - Penalties5.8 - Federal Criminal Law5.9 - Defenses in Criminal Cases


Juvenile proceedings - those against persons under 18 years of age at the time the crime was committed - use somewhat different procedures than adult prosecutions. The crimes that may be charged are the same (with the exception of a few offenses applicable only to juveniles) but the procedures are different. Title 19 of the Colorado Revised Statutes is entitled Children's Code, and sets for the procedures governing juvenile proceedings. Juvenile cases are heard by District Court judges, with larger jurisdictions (including Boulder) having one or more district court magistrates assigned to juvenile proceedings and handling most of the pretrial matters. Juvenile cases are prosecuted by the District Attorney, and the juveniles either hire private defense lawyers or are represented by the Office of Public Defender. Title 19 and the rules relating to juvenile proceedings are accessible in the fashion described above for other statutes.

Some of the differences are simply differences in terminology. For example, a juvenile is not found “guilty”. Rather, he or she is "adjudicated delinquent". But, there are many substantive differences as well. The differences generally stem from a difference in the underlying philosophy of the two systems: the philosophy of the juvenile court system is that children need help and training rather than simple punishment, and that both the family and social support systems have a role to play in this effort.

This difference in philosophy is first illustrated by the fact that the parents of a child who is charged are also named as parties in the prosecution. The parents are required to attend court hearings and an effort is made to get the parents involved in the resolution of the case and the sentence and/or treatment imposed on the juvenile. If the parents are not willing or able to get involved, or if the parents are the victim of the child’s behavior, the court has the power to name a guardian ad litem (GAL) to act in the place of the parents and counsel both the child and the court about the best course of action.

A juvenile’s constitutional rights are more limited than those of an adult. For example, juveniles who are deemed by the court to be a danger to themselves or to the community may be held without bond. This power is much broader than the very limited power to hold adults without bond. C.R.S. 19-2-508 sets forth the process for determining whether to hold a child without bond, or to release a child with or without conditions. Similarly, a child’s right to a jury trial is far more limited than the right enjoyed by adults. See C.R.S. 19-2-107.

On the other hand, the law recognizes that there are some areas where juveniles should be entitled to more protection than adults. So, for example, if the police want to question a juvenile suspect, they need to get not only the permission of the juvenile, but also the permission of the juvenile’s parent or guardian. See C.R.S. 19-2-511.

Perhaps the most significant difference between adult and juvenile prosecution is in the area of sentencing. As noted, the juvenile system generally operates on the premise that the children should be treated and/or trained. Thus, before imposing any sentence, a juvenile judge may hear not just from the prosecution and the defense, but also from the Department of Social Services, caseworkers, probation officers, the parents, the GAL, school personnel, counselors, Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and other interested parties. Since the goal is generally rehabilitation rather than punishment, all juvenile offenses (other than petty offenses) are punishable by probation, with a wide variety of conditions, or up to two years in the department of youth corrections. In this way, a sentencing court can give the child the treatment the court deems necessary regardless of the nature of the offense.

Of course, some children are deemed to be beyond the help of the juvenile court system. C.R.S. 19-2-517 provides that a prosecutor may direct file charges against a juvenile in adult court, and have the case treated as an adult case, if the child is fourteen or older and is alleged to have committed a class 1 or 2 felony, a crime of violence, certain weapons-related offenses or certain other offenses, or if the child has been adjudicated delinquent for felonious behavior within the past two years and is alleged to have committed certain types of crimes. In addition, even if the child does not fit into one of these direct filing categories, a prosecutor may ask for a transfer hearing and argue that the child's case should be transferred to the adult court system. Even though a case has been filed in, or transferred to, district court, the district court has the option of sending the case back to juvenile court for sentencing if the court believes that option to be in the best interest of everyone involved.

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