14.1 - Overview14.2 - Direct Appeals14.3 - Crim. p. 35(b) Proceedings (Reconsideration of Sentence)14.4 - Crim. P. 35(c) Proceedings14.5 - Revocation Proceedings14.6 - Appeals to Federal Court14.7 - Appeals in Civil Cases


The court structure in Colorado has trial courts at the base, intermediate appellate courts in the middle, and the Colorado Supreme Court at the top. Trial courts include municipal courts that hear municipal ordinance violations, county courts that hear misdemeanor criminal cases, most traffic cases and minor civil cases, and district courts that hear felony criminal cases, juvenile matters and major civil cases, including divorce. The district court serves as the appellate court for matters decided in county and municipal courts. The court of appeals is normally the appellate court for matters tried in the district courts. Some matters are appealed to the Colorado supreme court, but it is far more often the case that review in the supreme court is limited to matters of state-wide importance that the court chooses to hear and most direct appeals do not reach the supreme court. Review of a state court decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is even more rare, limited to matters of federal law that the high court decides to review because of great national significance.

It is nearly always the case that a party cannot appeal to a higher court until there is a final judgment in the trial court. As a result, the fact that a court enters a pre-trial ruling does not normally mean that the losing party can appeal at that time, although there are a few very limited exceptions to this rule. These exceptions include "interlocutory appeals" by the prosecution of pre-trial orders precluding use of evidence at trial because of fourth or fifth amendment violations in criminal cases and "original proceedings" for claims that the trial court abused its discretion on a matter for which there is no other adequate remedy, including direct appeal. (see Chapter 7.7)

Once a trial is over and a judgment entered, in both civil and criminal cases, the losing party almost always has the right to one "direct appeal" to a 'higher court.' Any second or subsequent review on direct appeal is nearly always at the discretion of the higher appellate court rather than a matter of right. If the direct appeal is from the county or municipal court to the district court, a single district court judge decides the appeal. Three judge panels decide cases taken to the court of appeals. The seven members of the supreme court decide cases reviewed by that court.

Generally, to initiate an appeal, a party must notify the other party and the trial court by filing a notice of appeal by a deadline specified in the court rules. That party must then designate the record for appeal and make sure that a transcript of the trial and other relevant proceedings is preparedand filed with other paperwork in the higher court. Then there is a schedule of deadlines for the appealing party's opening brief, the answer brief of the opposing party, and a reply brief by the appealing party. In some cases, both parties may want the higher court to review trial court decisions, in which case one party appeals and the other cross appeals. Once the case is fully briefed, there may be an oral argument in which the attorneys can present their positions and the judges can ask questions to clarify the issues.

An appeal is not an opportunity to re-litigate a case. It is merely an opportunity for the appellate court to decide whether the trial court made any errors in conducting the case. As a result, no new evidence is presented at the appellate court. Instead, the appellate court considers the legal arguments presented in the briefs and the argument and applies the law to the facts presented in the transcripts of the trial proceedings, exhibits admitted at trial, and other matters in the trial court record. If an error occurred, the appellate court will determine whether that error was prejudicial to the complaining party. Only if an error occurred, and that error prejudiced the appealing party, will an appellate court reverse a judgment of the trial court.

The appellate courts decide cases by issuing written opinions. A majority of the court is necessary for the opinion to be the judgment of the court. The members of the appellate court may express any disagreement among themselves by filing dissenting opinions or concurring opinions. All opinions of the supreme court are published. The court of appeals decides whether to publish its decisions. Published decisions are "binding precedent" that lower courts must follow.

In addition to direct appeals, there are other post-judgment proceedings in both civil and criminal cases that are first decided in the trial court. The losing party can seek a new trial. In civil cases, the prevailing party must often file motions and other paperwork to help it collect or enforce the judgment that was issued. In criminal cases, the defendant may seek to have his sentence reduced under Crim.P. 35(b) or to have the terms of his/her probation or deferred sentence modified or to have the probation terminated early, and the prosecution may seek to have a probationary or deferred sentence revoked if the defendant has violated the terms and conditions . In addition, a defendant may challenge his/her conviction or sentence on grounds that support such "collateral attacks." These collateral attacks are usually pursuant to Crim.P. 35(c) and include challenges to the validity of a plea or claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. They may include those issues that are appropriate for petitions for a writ of habeas corpus in the federal courts.

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