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Colorado Juvenile Law – Juvenile Rights for Children Accused of a Criminal Offense

Some Common Colorado Juvenile Rights Questions

These are but a few answers to some of the questions I receive almost on a weekly basis about the rights of juveniles in Colorado Criminal Cases – there are several installments of these pages – and this contains answers to the most recently asked questions.

Can a child receive capital punishment for a crime committed as juvenile?

The United States Supreme Court in the case of Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), stated that it is unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for crimes committed while under the age of 18.

The Courts 5-4 decision overruled the Court’s prior ruling upholding such sentences on offenders above or at the age of 16, in Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989), overturning statutes in 25 states that had the penalty set lower.

Can a child receive life in prison without the possibility of parole for a non homicide crime?

In 2010, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Graham v. Florida ruled that children cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide offenses.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided whether Roper v. Simmons which had abolished the death penalty for juvenile offenders should also apply to sentences without the possibility of parole for children.

Justice Kennedy stated, “The constitution prohibits the imposition of a life without parole sentence on a juvenile offender who did not commit a homicide. A state need not guarantee the offender eventual release, but if it imposes a sentence of life it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of that term. . .”

Is it cruel and unusual punishment for a child to receive a de facto life sentence without parole for a child in absence of injury or death in any of child’s victims?

Yes. Where the child is given a sentence where he is not eligible for parole beyond the child’s statistical life expectancy, it is considered a de facto life sentence and is therefore cruel and unusual punishment for a non homicidal crime according to the California second appellate District Court of Appeal in a case decided in September 2010.

Can a child receive a life sentence?

Yes. If a child is prosecuted as an adult, he or she can receive a life sentence if convicted certain qualifying crimes.

Does my child have a right to a jury trial?

Colorado has held that children do not have a right to a jury trial in a juvenile court adjudication. While a child may not have a right to a jury trial – the trial court can grant one in certain cases – including Juvenile Sex Crime cases involving felonies. All trials are done by a juvenile judge acting in the role of the jury.

Does my child have a right to bail in Colorado Juvenile Cases?

No. There is no absolute right to bail in a juvenile court case. However a child will most often be released to his or her parents and/or a bail bond may be required.

In “L.O.W v. County of Arapahoe,” the Colorado Supreme Court denied an absolute right to bail because it feared that the institution of formal bail proceedings would corrupt the unique character of juvenile proceedings. According to the court, the informal nature of the juvenile detention hearing gives juvenile court judges the opportunity to consider a child’s needs and welfare.’

Although Colorado’s bail provision grants an absolute right to bail in all but capital cases, the court noted that many rights afforded adult criminal defendants are not extended to juveniles:

“[T]he protective purposes of juvenile proceedings preponderate over their punitive function. ‘ The court also felt comfortable rejecting juveniles’ absolute right to bail because juvenile detention in Colorado is limited to two narrowly defined circumstances:

(1) protecting the child from imminent harm,


(2) protecting the public from serious bodily harm that the child is likely to inflict.

A Juveniles Statements to Treatment Professionals in the Course of Treatment – Are They Confidential?

C.R.S. § 19-3-207(2.5) A juvenile’s statements to a treatment professional in the course of treatment ordered by the court are privileged. The statements may not, without the juvenile’s consent, be admitted into any criminal or delinquency case brought against the juvenile. This privilege does not apply to statements regarding future misconduct.

Colorado Juvenile’s Charged as Adults – the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition’s Position (I am in agreement) appears below:

Statement of Principles Regarding the Prosecution and Sentencing of Colorado Children as Adults

WHEN 14-17 year old children are charged as adults in criminal court, C.R.S. §19-2-517 gives prosecutors sole decision making power and denies children the right to a hearing before a judge on the life changing decision of whether their case should be heard in juvenile court or adult court;

WHEN a child is prosecuted in adult criminal court, the jurisdiction of the juvenile court is permanently cut-off and children risk a permanent felony conviction and harsh mandatory adult sentencing laws;

WHEN 14-17 year old children are charged as adults in criminal court, C.R.S. §19-2-508 allows children to be held in an adult jail before trial or sentencing, unless a prosecutor agrees to allow the child to be held in a juvenile detention facility (which has appropriate facilities, programming, services and family visitation);

WHEN research studies demonstrate: that over 90% of children involved in the juvenile justice system have experienced severe trauma in their young lives; that nearly one quarter of children incarcerated in Colorado (DYC/YOS) have a moderate to severe mental health need; and, that mental health needs and the lasting impact of trauma can be more effectively addressed in settings appropriate to the offenders age and emotional development;

WHEN children are housed in adult jails and have no access to developmentally appropriate programs or structures, deprived of family contact visits, locked down in their cells 22 hours a day with limited access to education and recreation, they are far more likely to attempt and commit suicide;

WHEN 14-17 year old children are convicted of class 1 felonies they face a mandatory sentence of 40 years to life in prison; 50 juveniles in Colorado sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole (prior to the 2005 law change) are denied the basic human right to mature, develop, and participate in restorative justice programs;

WHEN policies and practices providing “adult time for adult crime” are harmful—rather than helpful—to community safety, as evidenced by research demonstrating that prosecuting juveniles in the adult criminal system increases rather than decreases the likelihood that they will reoffend, as compared with handling them in the juvenile justice system;

WHEN there exist serious civil rights concerns given that children of color are disproportionately charged and sentenced as adults in Colorado;

WHEN research continues to establish and reaffirm that the pre-frontal cortex of the brain responsible for planning and abstract thinking is not fully developed until mid-twenties – the rate of maturation can be severely retarded by abuse and neglect and that teen’s reactions to stress are more of a gut reaction than a thought process, laying the foundation for laws that prohibit youth under age 18 from taking on major adult responsibilities such as voting, jury duty and military service;

WHEREAS, We support reforming Colorado’s Direct File laws to give children a hearing before a judge on the critically important questions of whether they should be charged as adults, and whether they should be detained in an adult jails; We also support reforming sentencing options for children convicted in adult court to provide a developmentally appropriate response that allows for the child to mature and reform.

Does my child have rights at every stage of the Colorado Juvenile Court proceedings?

Yes, Juveniles also have constitutional rights at every stage of the court proceedings including but not limited to the following:

(1) to know the nature of the allegations against the juvenile;

(2) to be represented by counsel;

(3) to have a speedy trial;

(4) to confront witnesses against him;

(5) to cross-examine witnesses against him;

(6) to obtain witnesses or tangible evidence by compulsory process;

(7) to introduce evidence on his or her own behalf;

(8) to refrain from testifying against him or herself;

(9) to have the Deputy District Attorney prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt that he or she committed the delinquent act.

The Colorado Juvenile’s First Appearance in Court

At the first appearance before a court, subsequent to a juvenile being accused of committing a delinquent act in Colorado, the Colorado juvenile is typically provided an advisement of his or her rights. At this first Hearing the Court is to make sure that the juvenile and the parent of guardian of the juvenile understand:

The nature of the allegation contained in the juvenile delinquency petition;

The juvenile’s right to counsel by a lawyer and if the juvenile, parent, guardian, or other legal custodian is indigent, that the juvenile may be assigned a Colorado attorney to act as legal counsel, as provided by law;

The juvenile need not make any statement, and that any statement made may be used against the juvenile;

The juvenile potentially has the right to a preliminary hearing as set forth in Colorado law;

The juvenile’s potential right to a jury trial as set forth in Colorado law;

That any plea of guilty by the juvenile must be voluntary and not the result of undue influence or coercion on the part of anyone;

The sentencing alternatives available to the Court if the juvenile pleads guilty or is found guilty of committing a delinquent act;

The juvenile’s right to bail, as limited by law, and the amount of bail, if any, that has been set by the court;

Under certain circumstances that the juvenile may be subject to transfer to the criminal division of the district court to be tried as an adult, as provided by Colorado law.

Can I hire Juvenile Defense Lawyer H. Michael Steinberg to represent my child ?

Yes. H. Michael is a Juvenile Defense Lawyer that is specially qualified to represent children. Most lawyers handle many kinds of adult cases and therefore lack the experience and knowledge to provide effective legal representation in juvenile court. Mr. Steinberg has successfully handled thousands of juvenile cases. Your child’s freedom and future is at stake. Call our office right now for a free consultation. Your child deserves the best juvenile defense possible.

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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
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