In Jefferson, Arapahoe and Denver County, the District Attorney may file or threaten to file Habitual Criminal charges to force a defendant to plead guilty – regardless of the strength of a new case – when the defendant has multiple prior felony convictions. Otherwise, the defendant could have a really bad sentencing experience.
The threat of habitual charges changes the stakes of any criminal case because it could result in a defendant serving four times the normal maximum prison time at Sentencing. Habitual laws were implemented in 1993 and aim to “…to punish more severely those individuals who show a propensity toward repeated criminal conduct.” C.R.S. 18-1.3-801.
Provisions of The Big Habitual Law
In Colorado, Habitual Criminal cases are referred to as the “Big Habitual” and “Little or Baby Habitual.” To be eligible for sentencing under what is known as the “big” habitual criminal statute, the defendant must have three prior felony convictions that were separately brought and tried and that arise from separate and distinct events. The prior felony convictions can be from any state or federal case. The big habitual charge will increase the sentence to four times the presumptive maximum for the current case.
The Little Habitual Sentencing Provisions
The “little” habitual statute provides for a sentence that is three times the presumptive maximum if the current felony is a class one through class five felony. To be eligible for this enhancement, the defendant must have two prior felonies within ten years.
Habitual sentencing charges are serious because it means that even low level felonies carry an escalated and hefty penalty. For example, a class 5 felony for something like Menacing normally has sentencing range of 1-3 years in prison. If a big habitual count is added, the penalty is 12 years. If a little habitual count is added, the penalty is 9 years. The statute removes discretion in sentencing because it completely replaces a sentencing range with either 3 or 4 times the maximum normal penalty. Moreover, prosecutors rarely charge just one count in a criminal case, so a defendant can face habitual charges on multiple counts, each carrying the enhanced penalties described above. This can result in a potentially devastating risk to any defendant. So devastating, that pleading guilty to a lesser charge is almost always a better option than trial, even if a person is innocent of the new crime.
If you or a loved one is being threatened with habitual charges, take them seriously as they can result in lengthy periods of incarceration. Even if it’s a low level felony offense, the habitual threat is a serious threat. We have spent years defending people against charges like these in Arapahoe, Adams and Boulder County, and we can help you too. So, be smart, remain silent, and be sure you consult with an experienced attorney by contacting us today at (303) 731-0719. Together we can protect your future.