Sex Offender Sentencing

Colorado Sex Offender Sentencing Is Harsh

Punishment for sex offenses in Colorado is harsh. At the root of this system is the presumption that adult sex offenders cannot be cured. So, lengthy treatment with containment is the model. Once an individual pleads guilty to a sex offense (generally a reduced charge by "plea bargain") or is found guilty by a jury, the court must impose a sentence. Options for the court include prison, community corrections, county jail, probation with county jail, or straight probation.

Circumstances Requiring Mandatory Prison

A sentence to prison from a Denver County or Jefferson County court is only possible with a felony conviction, and it is generally reserved for sex offenses where the defendant falls into a mandatory prison sentence range, where the defendant is high risk, where the defendant is a repeat offender, or where the defendant has failed probation.

Mandatory prison sentences in Adams County and Arapahoe County generally are encountered with child sex offenses involving pattern offenses (more than one act of sexual contact), and in adult sex offenses involving force, threats, victim physical injury or weapons. Defendants are considered high risk when they have acts of sexual contact with strangers, when their sexual history is extensive, or when treatment is predicted to be ineffective. Repeat offenders are those defendants who have had a prior sex offense. Typical failures at probation are related to violations of a defendant's terms and conditions of probation. This may result from the defendant being terminated from treatment with a Sex Offender Management Board provider, or from a probation officer's decision.

The Realities of Colorado's Indeterminate Sentencing

It is important to realize that sex offender sentencing in felony matters generally involves some type of indeterminate sentencing. This is unique to sex offenses in Colorado. A sentence of this type requires the court to give the defendant a minimum sentence, but no maximum. The upper limit is left open, with the maximum being the defendant's natural life — or a lifetime sentence. The defendant's release from the sentence is not predictable. Indeterminate sentences occur in both prison and probation sentences in Douglas County and Weld County, Colorado. For example, a defendant might be given a prison sentence of four years to life. After serving four years, he or she might be considered for parole, but the parole board is not required to release him or her at the end of the four years served. The defendant might serve four years, 40 years, or a lifetime sentence. In the probation context, indeterminate sentences given for felony sex offenses are generally 10 years to life for a Class 4 felony, and 20 years to life for a Class 3 or Class 2 felony. Again, after the minimum probationary sentence is served, the defendant is not necessarily released from supervision. It is up to the court to decide when to release the defendant from probation.

The Community Corrections Option

A felony sentence within the community is referred to as "community corrections." This type of sentence is often referred to as a half-way house sentence. The normal route to arrive here is for a court to authorize screening for this type of sentence, and then a local board made up of community representatives decides if it wants the defendant in its program. The main advantage to a defendant is that this is an alternate sentence to prison, and the defendant is allowed to work in the community. For a portion of the sentence, the defendant will live in a residential program house, where case managers oversee the defendant's progress in treatment and in keeping restrictions placed by the court. Many community corrections boards are unwilling to assume the risk of having a sex offender under their care due to the political fallout if the defendant reoffends while under their supervision.

County Jail Is a Minimal Time Punitive Sanction

County jail sentences are served in the county where the offense was committed. A defendant can receive a sentence to county jail up to 90 days straight time, or two years work release, as a condition of probation in a felony matter, or up to 60 days straight time as a condition of probation with a misdemeanor. "As a condition of probation" means the court imposes a probationary sentence and then adds a jail sentence to the probation term. So, it is realistic that the defendant could serve an extensive probation sentence, of say 10 years, and also have to serve a county jail sentence at the start of the probation term. This method of combining probation and county jail is mostly used when a court feels the offense is deserving of some punitive sanction beyond probation, but not prison. When a defendant is employed, the court will often give the defendant a sentence to work release so the defendant can still pay his or her bills and support obligations. A work release sentence is not seen as quite so punitive as a straight county jail sentence, so the length will be increased to compensate.

Misdemeanor sex pleas can result in straight jail time for up to two years. Other options for the judge in a misdemeanor case include home detention, work release, or a treatment facility.

Probation Supervision Is Very Strict With Sex Offenders

Probation sentences in Denver, Lakewood, Centennial and Brighton, Colorado, involve the defendant meeting with a probation officer at regular intervals. During these meetings, the probation officer will determine a course of rehabilitative classes for the probationer to take, and otherwise manage the probationer's life. At the beginning of probation, the officer will require frequent visits or call-ins, testing and other restrictive conditions. Very slowly, as the probationer builds trust with his or her probation officer, frequency and restrictive conditions decrease. It is important for the probationer to strictly follow his or her officer's direction early on, in order to build trust and avoid a revocation. A revocation results when the probation officer feels the probationer has violated terms and conditions of probation. In sex offense cases, defendants will generally be required to serve Sex Offender Intensive Supervised Probation (SOISP). This SOISP will be served with a sex therapist working hand-in-hand with the probation officer. See our Sex Offender Treatment in Colorado Questions and Answers pages for more information.  The probation officer is the boss in this relationship, but will take input from the sex offender treatment provider very seriously. It is VERY easy to violate sex offender probation, particularly when placed with an already angry probation officer or uncaring treatment provider. We have seen vindictive and angry probation officers mainly in Arapahoe County. Probation officers and providers will rely heavily on polygraph examinations and other tests. A failure on these tests will generally lead to revocation of the probation.

While a defendant does not get to choose his or her probation officer, if proper planning is done early in the case, the defendant can influence which treatment program he or she will likely work with. The defendant must remember that a failure at probation or in treatment will generally result in a prison sentence being imposed. Prison sentences for sex offenders are generally indeterminate. The important conclusion for a defendant to remember is to walk the strict line set by probation and treatment, regardless of whether the defendant agrees with the conditions imposed.

A defendant should always remember that there are collateral consequences to any sex plea. These include sex offender registration, deportation for noncitizens, residence restrictions, contact with minors restrictions, job type restrictions, Internet restrictions, and restrictions on relationships of a sexual nature. Other restrictions exist, and your attorneys at O'Malley Law Office, P.C., can review these with you given your particular circumstances. Immediately upon learning that you may be accused of a possible sexual offense, be smart, exercise your right to remain silent and call us at 303-731-0719. Together, we can protect your future.

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