“Charges” are legal allegations that a suspect has committed a specific criminal offense as defined by state law.
Criminal charges are filed against a defendant on behalf of “the People of the State of Colorado,” not on behalf of a specific person, and the alleged criminal acts are considered “offenses against the peace and dignity of the People of the State of Colorado,” not offenses against specific persons.
The decision whether to file and prosecute criminal charges, and what those charges should be, is the responsibility of the District Attorney, in accordance with the Colorado Constitution and state laws.
This decision-making process is guided by legal and ethical standards which require a reasonable belief that the charge or charges can be proved to a unanimous jury beyond a reasonable doubt, after considering reasonable defenses. The law requires the lower “probable cause” level of proof to make an arrest, but requires the higher “beyond a reasonable doubt” level of proof to file a formal charge.
State misdemeanor and felony offense allegations are first investigated or filed by the Denver Police Department. The District Attorney’s Office reviews cases presented to it or initially filed by the police, and evaluates whether there is enough evidence to support the charges to move forward with prosecution. The actual charges may differ from those originally recommended. The filing and prosecution decision will be made based upon the specific facts of each case, including the physical evidence, witness statements and expert opinions that could be presented to a jury. These facts are evaluated and weighed against the specific language of the criminal statutes.
This review results in one of these outcomes:
- The case may be accepted for the filing of criminal charges
- The case may be refused for filing (for example, insufficient evidence)
- There may be a request for additional investigative work that is needed before a filing decision can be made
The District Attorney’s Office must generally file charges within three business days of the arrest when the defendant is in custody, although an extension of time can be granted by the court.
If a determination is made that the facts do not support a reasonable belief the charge can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, there is a legal and ethical duty to decline to file charges. That duty also extends to dismissing a charge or charges if, in the course of a case, such as after further investigation or further review of the evidence, it is determined the charge(s) can no longer be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.