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Colorado Criminal Juvenile Law- A Basic Introduction to Understanding How the Colorado Juvenile Justice System “Works”

What follows is an excellent article outlining Colorado Juvenile Law. The summary was written by H. Michael Steinberg Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer for Juvenile Criminal Cases – credit is to be given to the excellent work of the Honorable Babette Norton – a Colorado Jefferson County Judge.

The Colorado Children’s Code is found in – Title 19 of the Colorado Revised Statutes (CRS)

It is important to understanding Juvenile Law – to start with the purposes of the Children’s Code are set forth at CRS §19-1-102(1) as follows:

1. To secure for each child subject to these provisions such care and guidance, preferably in his or her own home, as will best serve his welfare and the interests of society;

2. To preserve and strengthen family ties whenever possible, including improvement of home environment;

3. To remove a child from the custody of his or her parents only when his welfare and safety or the protection of the public would otherwise be endangered and, in either instance, for the courts to proceed with all possible speed to a legal determination that will best serve the best interests of the child; and

4. To secure for any child removed from the custody of his or her parents the necessary care, guidance, and discipline to assist him or her in becoming a responsible and productive member of society.

Jurisdiction Means The Cases that the Colorado Juvenile Courts Oversee

The juvenile court has exclusive jurisdiction over a child under CRS § 19-1-104 in delinquency proceedings; dependency and neglect proceedings; determination of parentage or paternity proceedings; relinquishment of parental rights and adoptions; child support; for consent to marriage, enlistment, employment of a child when such consent is required by law; for treatment or commitment of mentally ill or developmentally disabled children; school truancy cases; and custody or guardianship concerning children who are otherwise under juvenile court jurisdiction.

The Colorado Juvenile Court’s Jurisdiction Extends PAST the Juvenile’s 18th Birthday.

The court in delinquency matters does not end when the juvenile turns eighteen years of age. The Children’s Code specifically allows the court to retain jurisdiction over a juvenile delinquent until all court orders have been completed, all pending cases have been completed, or the statute of limitations applicable to any offense with which the juvenile may be charged has run, regardless of whether the juvenile has turned eighteen.

The Children’s Code likewise allows the court to retain jurisdiction over any child who has been adjudicated dependent or neglected prior to his or her eighteenth birthday until that child is twenty-one in order to provide necessary services and assistance to allow the child to be come independent.

The Colorado Juvenile Court has Jurisdiction over Juvenile Criminal Cases – called DELINQUENCY Cases

These are the critically important definitions in the Juvenile Criminal Code

The following definitions are important in understanding juvenile delinquency law:

Adjudicatory Trial. This type of a trial is meant to determine whether the allegations of a petition in delinquency are supported by the evidence.

Adult. This is a person eighteen years of age or older. The exceptions to this definition are that any person eighteen years of age or older who is under the continuing jurisdiction of the court, who is before the court for an alleged delinquent act committed prior to his eighteenth birthday, or concerning whom a petition has been filed for his adoption other than under Title 19, shall be referred to as a juvenile.

Delinquent Act. A violation of the law over which juvenile court has jurisdiction is a delinquent act. This includes violations of state and federal statutes and court orders. There are certain violations of state law over which juvenile court does not have jurisdiction. These include non-felony state traffic laws, parks and recreation and game and fish laws or regulations; and offenses concerning tobacco products by an underage person. A juvenile who is charged with committing one of these offenses has his or her case heard in county court.

Detention. The temporary care of any child who requires secure custody in physically restricting facilities pending sentencing is known as detention. In an adult case, it would be the same as placing a person in jail.

Guardian ad Litem. A person appointed by the court to act in the best interest of the child/juvenile is called the guardian ad litem.

Juvenile. A person under the age of eighteen is considered a juvenile. This term is used refer to a child who is charged with committing a delinquent act.

Juvenile Delinquent. A juvenile who has been found guilty of committing delinquent act is classified a juvenile delinquent.

Sentencing Hearing. This is a hearing to determine what sentence should be imposed on a juvenile delinquent.

Shelter. A child may be temporarily cared for, pending court disposition, in physically unrestricted facilities referred to as shelters.

Colorado Juvenile Law – the Rights of Juveniles in Police Custody

The Miranda Rights of Juveniles

When a juvenile is in custody and the police want to question him or her, the juvenile and  his or her parent, guardian, legal or physical custodian must be advised of the following rights: the right to remain silent; that any statement made by the juvenile may be used against the juvenile in a court of law; the right to have an attorney present during the interrogation; and the right to have an attorney present during questioning, if requested at the time of interrogation. If the person cannot afford a lawyer the court will appoint one. This is what is commonly known as a Miranda warning.

Once this warning is given, the juvenile can only be questioned by the police without the further presence of his or her parent, guardian, or legal or physical custodian if the right to be present is waived in writing by the juvenile and the appropriate responsible adult acting on behalf of the juvenile. Anything the police learn during this interrogation can then be used against the juvenile even though no parent or other responsible adult was present and acting on behalf of the juvenile.

Waiving, or giving up, the right to have a parent present does not waive any of the juvenile’s Miranda rights.

In one case, the juvenile was advised of his rights in the presence of his mother, and requested an attorney. No attorney was provided to him. Later, when a relative of the juvenile who also was a police officer advised him to do so, the juvenile indicated that he would take a polygraph test. The juvenile was re-advised of his rights during the polygraph examination and again later. The juvenile never retracted his original request for an attorney or in any other way affirmatively waive his right to have an attorney present, but proceeded to make incriminating statements. The court ruled that the statements were inadmissible because he had not waived the right to have an attorney present.

Colorado Juvenile Criminal Law – Search and Seizure and Consent to Search Laws

Juveniles who are not under arrest and not in custody can refuse to allow the police to search their personal belongings. It is not necessary that a parent, guardian, or legal or physical custodian be present in order for a juvenile to consent to a search.

There are cases where the police have conducted searches and have found evidence to be used against a juvenile and later there is a question whether the police had consent to search. When this question arises, the police have to convince a judge that consent was given, that there was no duress or coercion, express or implied, and that the consent was unequivocal and specific and freely and intelligently given.

Once a juvenile is properly arrested, he or she cannot refuse to be searched and any evidence found on his or her person can be used against the juvenile. Law enforcement must, however, obtain an appropriate warrant or establish an exception to the warrant requirement to search a juvenile’s vehicle or other closed belongings. Ownership of the item to be search is critical in determining who may consent to search. If a vehicle driven by a juvenile is actually owned by the juvenile’s parent, that parent may consent to search the vehicle without the juvenile’s consent. A juvenile’s room within his or her parent’s home may be searched without a warrant if the juvenile’s parent consents to that search even if the juvenile objects to the search without a warrant.

Under CRS § 19-1-105(2), the juvenile court may appoint counsel without counsel being requested, if the court feels an attorney is necessary to protect the interests of the juvenile. The parents may be required to reimburse the court.

What if the parent requires the juvenile to make a statement or authorizes a search without a warrant?

In one case, the father ordered the son to open the van after advisement of rights. Blood was found in the van, and the boy was later found guilty of murder. The Colorado Supreme Court indicated that there was a proper advisement and that the search was legal.

Colorado Juvenile Criminal Law – Searches of Juveniles by School Officials

A juvenile’s rights pertaining to search and seizure and consent to search by school officials are not as broad as when conducted by the police.

To determine whether a search of a juvenile or of his or her property at school by school officials is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the courts must consider:

(1) if there are reasonable grounds for suspicion that the search will uncover evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school;

and

(2) if the subsequent search is reasonably related in scope to the purpose of the initial intrusion.

For instance, in one case, a principal was advised by a police officer of the intent of certain students to sell marijuana at the school. A student was removed from class, interrogated and both he and his locker were searched by the school principal and security guard. No drugs were found. The security guard then searched the student’s car despite his objection. Marijuana was found in the car. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the search, finding that the Fourth Amendment standard of reasonableness was not violated.

Colorado Juvenile Criminal Law – Arrest – Custody and Detention

Young people who are taken into custody and formally referred to a juvenile court are entitled to an initial hearing on the validity of their arrest and detention.

At this initial hearing, the state must generally prove two things:

(1) that an offense was committed

and

(2) that there is reasonable cause to believe that the accused committed it.

If the state wants to further detain the  juvenile, it must prove that the juvenile is:

a danger to himself or herself or others,

is likely to run away if released,

or has a past record that warrants detention.

If the juvenile does not have an attorney, the court usually assigns one at this time and set a date within seventy-two hours excluding weekends and court holidays for a petition in delinquency to be filed.

A juvenile can be arrested and detained if it is alleged that he or she has committed a delinquent act. If the juvenile is not released after law enforcement officials obtain basic identifying information and contact the juvenile’s parent, guardian or legal custodian, the juvenile is entitled to have a detention hearing before a judge to determine if he or she is to be further detained.

This hearing must occur within forty-eight hours, excluding weekends and court holidays.

At this hearing, the judge has the following options:

1. that the juvenile be released to the custody of a parent, guardian, or legal or physical custodian, with or without the posting of a bond (as part of the conditions of release, many juveniles are sent home on an ankle monitor where they are more or less under house arrest;

2. that the juvenile be placed in a shelter facility or placed with the county Department of Human Services in lieu of a bond;

3. the juvenile may be released on summons

4. the bond be denied and that the juvenile be detained upon a determination that he or she is a danger to him or herself or to the community. Those situations where there is a presumption that a juvenile is a danger to self or the community includes felonies that involve violent acts and violations involving weapons. The delinquency petition detailing the charges against the juvenile must be filed within 72 hours of the detention hearing.

Who is a “parent,” “guardian,” or “legal custodian”?

Is a stepparent who has not adopted a juvenile a legal custodian? Is a parent who is not living in the home and who has had no contact with the juvenile for many years a proper person to make a decision regarding the juvenile?

What Happens at the Colorado Juvenile Advisement Hearing?

Once a delinquency petition is filed, the juvenile and his parent or guardian are told in writing to come to court where the juvenile is advised of his constitutional and legal rights and asked to enter a plea to the charges in the petition.

What Does an Adjudication Mean in a Colorado Juvenile Criminal Case?

A juvenile may enter a plea of guilty which must be done knowingly and voluntarily, meaning that he or she understands all of his or her rights and is freely giving up those rights. A guilty plea will not be accepted by the court if the juvenile is being forced or coerced to plead guilty or if the juvenile is under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or any thing else which could impair his or her judgment.

A juvenile may enter a plea of not guilty and set the matter for trial before a judge or a magistrate. A juvenile is entitled to a jury trial only where he or she is alleged to be a violent juvenile offender or an aggravated juvenile offender. An aggravated juvenile offender is one who is adjudicated for a very serious felony (i.e. murder) or has previously been adjudicated for a felony and is adjudicated for a crime of violence or is adjudicated for felonious unlawful sexual behavior.

Following a plea of guilty or a finding of guilt at trial, the court can enter an order adjudicating a juvenile to be a delinquent. The court could also enter an order deferring the entry of an order of adjudication on certain conditions with the consent of the prosecutor. In juvenile delinquency cases, the term “adjudication” is the equivalent of the term “conviction” for adults.

What Happens at the Colorado Juvenile Criminal – Delinquency Sentencing

At the sentencing hearing, the judge has a wide range of sentencing options including one or more of the following:

1. Commitment of the juvenile to the Department of Human Services for a period not in excess of two years for most juveniles, but up to seven years for the most serious offenders. Commitment also includes a mandatory period of parole of at least six months.

2. If the juvenile is eighteen years of age or older at the time of sentencing, the judge can sentence him or her to county jail or to community corrections.

3. Detention for up to forty-five days.

4. Placement with a relative or other suitable person or into the custody of the county department of social services.

5. Probation

6. Placement in a hospital.

7. Imposition of a fine.

8. Order the juvenile to reimburse any victims for damages caused by the juvenile (i.e., restitution).

When a juvenile delinquent is granted probation, the juvenile court may release the juvenile from probation or modify the terms and conditions of probation at any time. However, any juvenile who has complied satisfactorily with the terms and conditions of the probation for a period of two years shall be released from probation, and the jurisdiction of the court shall be terminated.

What About Colorado Juveniles Who Are Charged and Tried as Adults?

There are two ways that a juvenile offender may be tried as an adult. The first way is by “transfer” and the second way is by “direct file.” The transfer method is where the case is first filed in the juvenile court and then the district attorney requests a hearing so that the juvenile judge may decide if the case should be transferred to district court which is where adult cases are heard.

The factors that the juvenile judge considers in making this decision include the age and maturity of the juvenile and the seriousness and circumstances of the alleged crime. The transfer method is not widely used as district attorneys will bypass the juvenile court and use the direct file method whenever possible. The direct file method permits the case against the juvenile offender to be filed in the district court without the permission of the juvenile judge when the juvenile is fourteen years of age or older and is alleged to have committed certain serious offenses. The type of offenses include class 1 or class 2 felonies (such as first-degree murder), “crimes of violence” (such as the more serious assaults, robberies, burglaries and arsons), serious weapons offenses, vehicular homicide and vehicular assault. The direct file statute also provides that when a juvenile has one or more prior felonies on his or her record, a direct file is available even if the present offense is not as serious as those described above.

How Do Colorado Criminal Courts Handle Mentally Ill Juveniles?

The Colorado Children’s Code does not have a “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea as do adults in criminal court. However, where there is a question as to a juvenile’s mental state, a judge can order that a “prescreen” be conducted by a mental health professional. If it appears from this cursory prescreen that a juvenile may be mentally ill, further testing will occur. A juvenile is deemed to be mentally ill if he or she is an imminent danger to himself or others or is gravely disabled. If a juvenile is certified as mentally ill after the second evaluation, any pending delinquency proceedings may be suspended or dismissed.

Colorado Juvenile Cases – Criminal Expungement of the Case From the Colorado Records

In many instances, those who have juvenile records can apply to get those records expunged. Expungement means that the records are deemed to have never existed. Once expungement occurs, a juvenile can honestly answer that he or she has no juvenile record. Despite an expungement order, law enforcement (police and district attorney) retains certain information about the juvenile’s record and this information may be used against the person in the event of any future criminal violations.

For example, under Colorado law, a prior adjudication may be used in future sentencing or bond setting. A juvenile is eligible to petition the court for an order of expungement after a certain period of time has passed since the juvenile’s case has ended.

In most cases, this period is four years, but it can be as long as ten years. In the most serious cases involving crimes of violence, unlawful sexual behavior or where a juvenile is tried and convicted as an adult, those records can never be expunged.

Juvenile Records – The Confidentiality of Colorado Juvenile Criminal Records

In general, all records in juvenile cases are confidential and cannot be disclosed to the public except by a court order.

In delinquency cases, court records concerning juveniles charged with serious felonies and weapons violations are open to the public. The victim may also have access to certain juvenile records.


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___________________________
H. Michael Steinberg Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
The Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm of H. Michael Steinberg
A Denver, Colorado Lawyer Focused Exclusively On
Colorado Criminal Law For Over 30 Years.
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