Understanding Colorado Juvenile Diversion Programs

Parents of Children under investigation or charged in the Colorado Juvenile Justice System must become familiar with the possibility of a Diversion “offer” from the District Attorney. Below is an article describing the law and the process of Juvenile Diversion Programs in Colorado.

How District Attorneys Figure Into the Diversion “Decision”

Diversion is defined in the Colorado Children’s Code (§19-1-103(44), C.R.S.) as “a decision made by a person with authority or a delegate of that person in which the result is that a specific official action of the legal system is not taken against the youth in lieu of participating in individually designed services provided by a specific program.

The District Attorney (DA) is elected to a four-year term in each of the 22 judicial districts in Colorado. Judicial districts vary in the number of counties they cover, from one to seven.

Larger DA offices may have a separate juvenile division that is often the “learning ground” for new prosecutors. The state pays a base salary to the elected district attorney while other salaries and operating expenses are provided by the county (ies) that make up the district.

All delinquent offenses can be handled by the DA, however; there is some combined jurisdiction with municipal attorneys. More minor delinquent offenses are being handled at the municipal court level.

Local district attorneys’ offices are responsible for the decisions regarding filing of delinquency charges. The intake section of the district attorney’s office reviews law enforcement or probation officer referrals and decides whether to divert the case from formal filing, file charges, request an informal adjustment or deferred adjudication, and/or direct file to the criminal court.

If further detention has been ordered by the court at the detention hearing, the DA must file a petition within 72 hours alleging the delinquency and the facts that bring the juvenile under court jurisdiction.

DA Decides the Procedure and Path of a Colorado Juvenile Criminal Case

The DA also has the discretion to file charges directly in adult court based on the offense and age of the juvenile. This is the method by which most juveniles enter the adult system.

Again – What is Diversion?

Diversion is defined in the Colorado Children’s Code (§19-1-103(44), C.R.S.) as “a decision made by a person with authority or a delegate of that person in which the result is that a specific official action of the legal system is not taken against the youth in lieu of participating in individually designed services provided by a specific program.”

The goal is to prevent further involvement of the youth in the formal legal system. Some “diversion” programs provide services to diverted youth and do not function in the legal role of diverting cases from being filed. These are private non-profit agencies that serve a broader population of juveniles in hopes of “diverting” them from further penetration into the juvenile justice system.

Services by the non-profit sector include, but are not limited to, diagnostic needs assessment, restitution, community service, victim/offender mediation, job training and placement, specialized tutoring, constructive recreational activities, general counseling, counseling during a crisis situation, and follow-up activities.

Diversion of a juvenile or child may take place either at the pre-filing level as an alternative to filing of a petition pursuant to C.R.S. 19-2-512 or at the post adjudication level as an adjunct to probation services following an adjudicatory hearing pursuant to C.R.S. 19-3-505 or a disposition as a part of sentencing pursuant to C.R.S. 19-2-907.

For the pre-adjudicated youth population, juvenile diversion focuses on the diversion of non-violent and youth first appearing at the district court level from the court system and probation caseload by supporting the formal pre-file diversion processes and programs in district attorneys’ offices (or delegated to local non-profit youth service agencies) that reduce the number of cases that appear before the court; case management and services to youth who receive a deferred adjudication, informal adjustment, or an adjudication dismissed without prejudice, in coordination with probation to reduce their caseload responsibilities; and for those youth on formal probation, the provisions of accountability (restitution, community service, victim/offender mediation), competency and treatment services to lower risk-level youth to insure their successful completion of short-term probation thus preventing further penetration into the system.

For the post-adjudicated youth population, local agencies, both district attorneys’ offices and non-profit youth serving agencies, use state juvenile diversion funded services to assist lower-risk probation youth meet the conditions of probation such as restitution and community service (as well as other competency and treatment services) that cannot be met financially by probation funds. SB94 (alternatives to detention) efforts are accessed at the higher-risk end of probation youth, those at risk of revocation due to re-offending or failing to meet more intense conditions of probation.

According to local practice and criteria, charges against the juvenile are filed by the district attorney’s office. However, based either on the prosecutor’s request or action by the court, the juvenile is offered an informal adjustment or deferred adjudication, after admission of guilt and agreement to comply with court conditions.

Although the juvenile may technically be on probation, a formal agreement from the court delegates supervision and other diversion services to either the district attorney’s juvenile diversion program or a community-based agency. 

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