Navigating Probation in Colorado: A Comprehensive Guide

Probation in Colorado offers a unique path for those convicted of criminal offenses. By adhering to certain conditions, you may be able to bypass jail or reduce your sentence. This guide explains probation, its different types, and what to expect if you choose this legal path.

Understanding Probation in Colorado – What is it

Probation is an alternative to incarceration for criminal convictions in Colorado. It is a sentence imposed by a judge that allows a person to live in the community instead of jail or prison.

A person on probation is not “free.” There are many requirements of supervision. These conditions of probation are tailored to each individual’s case, though there are some standard conditions or probation requirements. Depending on the case, conditions may also include drug testing, counseling, and reporting to a probation officer (PO).

Depending on where your court case is, there may be specialized programs to help, such as Drug Court for drug possession charges, or Veteran’s Court for former members of the armed forces.

This article provides a detailed guide to what probation is, what the requirements of probation are, and how you can be affected by probation and be successful on it.

Goals of Probation

First, let’s talk about why probation exists and what goals judges have when they are considering putting someone on probation.

There are many types of probation, which we’ll cover in the next section. All forms of probation are considered court-ordered alternatives to jail or prison. The offender is allowed to live “in society” if they promise to obey specific requirements or standards of conduct.

The goals of probation can include:

  1. To rehabilitate probationers by addressing the specific issues that contributed to their criminal activity
  2. To protect the community by reducing future crimes by probationers
  3. To reduce the number of people in jails and prisons
  4. To increase the likelihood that the probationer will pay fines, fees, and restitution for their crimes.
  5. To punish the probationer for the crime they committed.

These goals are important to keep in mind when evaluating whether a condition of probation is allowed by law. As you may be able to tell, the number one focus of probation departments is community safety — not rehabilitation. Though rehabilitation is an important aim, if there is a question of community safety then that must be addressed before rehabilitation is discussed.

Eligibility for Probation

Probation is an option for most offenses. Some exceptions are:

  1. The criminal conviction is for a class 1 felony or a civil infraction, or
  2. You have two or more prior, distinct felony convictions.
    Generally, the judge sentences a defendant directly to probation during a sentencing hearing. You can also ask for alternative sentencing after serving part of a jail or prison sentence. 
  3. For some offenses, probation is possible but very unlikely. For others, most offenders are sentenced to probation even though jail time is possible. Don’t assume the worst if you’re charged with a crime: an experienced attorney can help guide to to understanding what the likely sentence would be. We can also help you know what to do to increase your chances of being granted probation.

Split Sentences and Suspended Jail

Judges have the option to use probation and jail at the same time when imposing a sentence. The law allows judges to require some jail time as a “condition” of probation, where you serve a short jail sentence and are then released to probation. Judges can also impose jail time and “suspend” that time. That means that you serve probation and do not have to go to jail unless you violate probation.

Probation for DUI Cases

In Colorado, probation is a common sentencing tool for first-offense DUI offenses. However, the law requires some jail time in cases with high blood alcohol content or if it is not a first-offense.

FAQ – Can I get probation if?

Can I be put on probation for a domestic violence charge?

Yes — The most common domestic violence charges come with one to two years of probation. During this time, you have to complete evaluation and treatment.

Can I be sentenced to probation for a DUI/DWAI?

Yes — Judges often impose probation in DUI cases. During probation, you may be required to complete Level II alcohol classes and be on monitored sobriety. Jail time (or other alternative sentencing) is require in addition to probation in certain cases.

Will a judge give me probation for a felony?

Yes — Probation is possible even for felony cases. Depending on the case and your attorney’s sentencing argument, the judge may see probation as a good alternative to jail time.

Types of probation

There are three main types of probation in Colorado: intensive supervised probation (ISP), supervised probation, and unsupervised (court) probation. Let’s start with Supervised probation, since that is the default when someone mentions “probation” as a possible sentence.

Supervised Probation

Supervised probation is the most common type of probation in most cases. The main feature of supervised probation is the requirement to report to a probation officer (PO) during your probationary term. Examples of reporting requirements include:

  • Check-in on a website every day,
  • Call your PO every week.
  • Visit the Probation Office once a week or every month.
  • Visits from your PO to your home.

In addition to check-ins with your PO, there are standard terms and conditions of probation that you must follow. We’ll discuss these below.

Supervised probation is required by some courts when there are additional probation requirements, like attending mental health counseling or completing Domestic Violence evaluation and treatment.

You do have to pay supervision fees that are set by the court or probation services. The weekly or monthly supervision fee is often added onto your court costs when you are sentenced.

One possible advantage to supervised probation is that a probation officer can help you make sure that any additional requirements get reported to the court. For example, if you are ordered to complete community service hours, your probation officer may be able to help you report your time to the court.

Unsupervised Probation

Unsupervised probation is sometimes called “court probation.”  Unsupervised probation is usually more convenient and less costly, but it is typically reserved for lower risk adult offenders. 

If you are given an unsupervised probation sentence, you are not assigned a probation officer and you do not have to check in with an office. You will probably not hear from anyone while you are on probation, unless it is a letter or email. 

It will be your responsibility to make sure that any requirements of your sentence are communicated to the court before your deadline. For example, if you are required to complete useful public service, you will have to submit your completed hours to the Court directly.

Intensive Supervised Probation

Intensive supervised probation (ISP) is a probation program for high-risk offenders. It is a less-restrictive alternative to other sentences like work release or community corrections. ISP requirements can include daily check-ins, therapy, and frequent, unannounced contact by probation officers.

Some intensive supervision programs are dedicated to particular kinds of offenders or charges. A common example of a specialized program is the sex offender intensive probation program.

Duration of Colorado Probation

The length of probation varies and can range from 3 months to 2 years or even more. The judge is the one who has the ability to set the length of probation, but there are some limits. For most misdemeanors, probation cannot last more than 5 years. A person also can’t be put on probation for a time longer than the maximum sentence they could receive in jail or prison. CRS 18-1.3-202

Early Release from Probation

You may be eligible for early release if you have been compliant with the probation terms. An attorney can help you request approval from your probation officer and the prosecutor for early termination of probation. With that approval, a judge is likely to grant early termination if you have successfully completed all terms of your sentence except for the length of probation and have already served a significant amount of time.

There are good reasons to ask for early termination of probation. If you are moving out of state or your circumstances have changed to make probation particularly hard on you, you may be able to ask the judge for a change. Of course, probation isn’t supposed to be easy. Simply not wanting to have probation requirements anymore is not a reason to have those requirements removed.

What happens when you complete probation?

When you successfully complete every condition of probation, you will be released from your probation obligations. In most courts, the judge will set a review date close in time to your end date of probation. Normally, the judge will tell you that you do not need to appear at this court date if you have been successful on your probation. Some judges, however, will require your appearance in court.

If there have been no complaints from your probation officer and you have completed requirements like community service and classes, then you will be released. If you were also granted a deferred sentence, then the judge will act on the agreement and may dismiss or reduce the charges against you.

What is a Presentence report (PSI)?

A Pre-Sentence Investigation report is often called a PSI in the courtroom. It is a report completed by the probation department that includes information the judge can use in order to determine how to sentence a defendant.

Often, when an adult defendant pleads guilty or is convicted at trial, the judge sets another court date for sentencing. The defendant is told they have to report to probation to set up an intake interview. Then, a probation officer interviews the defendant to find out about their life and the defendant’s view on the charges and court process.

The probation officer uses the defendant interview, their criminal record, and records from the case to complete the PSI. In Colorado, the PSI will include the amount of time the defendant should get for Presentence Confinement Credit (or credit for time served). It may also include a “criminality score” showing how the defendant stacks up against other people in the legal system. The PSI states if the defendant is eligible for probation in Colorado and then recommends what the sentence should be.

The judge does not have to follow probation’s recommendation. However, if the PSI recommends probation, it is easier to be sentenced to probation than if the PSI recommends jail time.

For sex offenders, there is an additional report required called the Sex Offender Management Board evaluation that must be completed even if a PSI is not ordered.

What are the conditions of probation?

The conditions of probation depend on what type of probation you are on. For unsupervised probation, the main requirement is to remain law abiding. You are also responsible for paying restitution and completing your public service requirements, if those are ordered.

For people on supervised or intensive supervised probation, there are additional requirements set by the probation department.

For Colorado criminal cases, there is a list of standard terms and conditions of probation. These conditions of supervision include checking in with a probation officer, committing no new offenses, and complying with other requirements set by the probation officer. Arrest can occur if you do not follow the conditions that are set in your particular case.

What is the cost of probation?

In Colorado, there is a mandatory $50 per month supervision fee for adults on probation. This may be in addition to other fines and fees as part of your sentence.

The court collections department will tell you where to pay your supervision fee. If you are being supervised by the probation department, that might be the court. However, if you are a lower-risk offender, your probation may be transferred to a private company. Sometimes, you pay the company directly for your supervision.

What happens if someone violates probation in Colorado?

If you violate a condition of probation, you could be arrested and put in jail. A complaint that you violated probation will be filed in your court case, and your probation could be revoked. If you had a suspended sentence, the court might impose that sentence of jail or prison.

Court probation programs are supposed to help defendants remain law abiding while they live in the community. Individual probation officers may work with you to make sure that you can become compliant with probation, but you can never rely on someone not caring if you follow the rules.

Probation violations are serious and can land you in jail. If you are being accused of a probation violation, contact a Colorado criminal defense lawyer immediately to protect your rights.

What is the difference between probation and parole?

Probation and parole are different, but both require supervision. Probation is a sentence to keep you out of jail or prison. Parole occurs after someone serves a prison term and is released.

Contact a Colorado criminal defense lawyer to learn more about probation.

If you are facing a criminal charge, or if you have been placed on probation and are being accused of violating probation, you need an experienced defense team on your side. At Path Forward Legal, our team of dedicated criminal defense attorneys can help you. Learn what your options are and how we can help you move forward with your life.