Arraignment in Colorado

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In Colorado, the criminal legal process begins after arrest, not with arraignment, but with what's called an “initial hearing” or “advisement hearing.”

For more information on arraignment and initial court appearances in general, see Arraignment: Getting to Court.

First Appearance

For defendants in custody, a first appearance must occur “without unnecessary delay” in county or district court. If the arrest wasn’t pursuant to a warrant, the court must determine whether there is probable cause to support it and justify continued detention. (Colo. Crim. P. Rules 4.1, 5.)

The judge must also advise the defendant of certain fundamental rights (like the right to counsel) and set bail, including conditions of release. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 16-4-103.)

If a felony arrest is pursuant to a warrant and the defendant’s first appearance is before a court that didn’t issue the warrant, the judge will set bail. If the defendant doesn’t post bail within 48 hours, he or she will be taken to the court that issued the warrant. (Colo. Crim. P. Rule 5.)

“Unnecessary Delay”

Administrative processes, such as fingerprinting, photographing, and preparing documents, are “necessary” delays. But a first appearance is unnecessarily delayed if the postponement is due to the officers conducting an interrogation or gathering more evidence.

For a delay to matter, the defendant must show that it was both unnecessary and resulted in prejudice. For example, a defendant who didn’t receive a first appearance for almost two days after arrest wasn’t prejudiced by a confession made during the delay. The delay may have been unnecessary, but the incriminating statements were voluntarily given during the delay, not because of it. (People v. Roybal, 55 P.3d 144 (Colo. App. 2001).)

Arraignment

An arraignment is a critical proceeding that entitles a defendant to an attorney. The court formally presents the charges, advises the defendant of certain rights, and asks him or her to enter a plea. (See How should I plead at arraignment?) The defendant can waive reading of the indictment if his or her attorney is present. Defendants charged with certain offenses don’t need to be present at arraignment if their attorney enters a “not guilty” plea. (Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 16-1-104, 16-7-205, 16-7-207; Colo. Crim. P. Rules 5, 10, 11(a).).

Consult a Lawyer

If you’ve been arrested, whether or not you’ve been to court, seek legal assistance. Only a knowledgeable attorney can advise you of the relevant law and protect your rights.

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