17 November 2006

Trials in Colorado 2006

How many trials are there in courts in Colorado and how many are jury trials?

The latest annual report of the Colorado judicial system for fiscal year 2006 is out, and it contains numbers of all sorts of empirical matters of interest to policymakers. One is data on how many court and jury trials are conducted in the state each year. Federal court information for the same year is also available. The breakdown is as follows:

Criminal and Quasi-Criminal Cases
Infraction Final Hearings 8764

Traffic Trial To Court 187 (33%)
Misdemeanor Trial To Court 298 (31%)
Juvenile Trial To Court 281 (Delinquency and Parental Rights Terminations) (89%)
District Court Criminal Trial To Court 28 (Mostly Felonies) (3%)
Federal District Court Criminal Trial To Court 15* (41%)
Subtotal: 809 (excludes infractions) (29%)

Traffic Jury Trial 386
Misdemeanor Jury Trial 651
Juvenile Jury Trial 35 (Parental Rights Terminations)
District Court Criminal Jury Trial 857 (Mostly Felonies)
Federal District Court Criminal Jury Trial 22
Subtotal: 1,951

Criminal and quasi-criminal jury trials make up about 85% of all jury trials in Colorado.

Felonies have a minimum presumptive sentence of one year in state prison and must be tried in District Court. Misdemeanors under Colorado law have a maximum sentence of two years in a county jail and are generally tried in county court unless accompanied by felony charges. Infractions are cases punishable only by fines in which there is no constitutional right to either a public defender or a jury trial. Across the board, cases that go to trial tend disproportionately to be the more serious cases.

Juvenile cases are tried in District Court outside of Denver and in Juvenile Court in Denver. Juvenile delinquents do not have a right to a jury trial, while adults facing a termination of parental rights for abuse or neglect do have a right to a jury trial. Both are classified as juvenile cases and both are quasi-criminal in that they are prosecuted by government officials for specific misdeeds in the public interest.

Only county court traffic cases are shown (the traffic trials arise out of 273,001 cases filed), no data is available on municipal court cases outside of Denver. There were 13 non-traffic and 5 traffic appeals from municipal courts not of record in the past year in county courts, which are handled by trials de novo in county court.

Federal court tries all federal crimes, both felonies and misdemeanors, most federal court criminal cases are immigration, drug, white collar or Indian Reservation cases.

Civil Cases
Small Claims Trial To Court 3,485 (100%)
County Court Civil Trial To Court 1,236 (99%)
District Court Civil Trial To Court 280 (50%)
Evidentiary Federal Magistrate Civil Hearings 9 (100%)
Evidentiary Federal Magistrate Prisoner's Case Hearings 7 (100%)
Federal District Court Civil Trial To Court 36* (46%)
Subtotal: 5,053 (94%)

County Court Civil Jury Trial 17
District Court Civil Jury Trial 277
Federal District Court Civil Jury Trial 43
Subtotal: 337

Civil jury trials make up about 15% of all jury trials in Colorado.

In national statistics, about three-quarters of general jurisdiction state trial court jury trials are in personal injury cases. The available data makes it impossible to determine if this is true in Colorado, although there is no reason to think that Colorado is atypical in this regard.

If Colorado is typical, about 95% of jury trials in Colorado are for criminal, quasi-criminal or personal injury cases, while all other cases account for about 5% of jury trials.

* Excludes 30 pre-trial evidentiary hearings and 7 evidentiary sentencing hearings.
** Excludes 36 evidentiary hearings in preliminary matters and motions, etc.

Colorado Trial Courts in A Nutshell

The jurisdictional limit of small claims in Colorado is $7,500, essentially all claims that don't default must be handled in trials to the court (i.e. by a judge rather than jury), and lawyers are not permitted in most cases. Repeat filings in small claims court (e.g. by businesses for routine collections) are prohibited. Only money damages may be awarded in small claims court. Small claims are usually neighborhood or consumer complaints.

The jurisdictional limit of county court in Colorado is $15,000 in civil cases and may not involve title to real estate (but evictions where ownership of the property is not in dispute are allowed). County court also have only highly circumscribed authority to issue injuunctions. County court civil cases are dominanted by debt collection cases brought by businesses, evictions, and repossessions of personal property. County court also handles most temporary restaining orders.

In the most recent year 148 county court civil cases were transferred to district court because of a counterclaim in excess of the $15,000 jurisdictional threshold, and 645 cases were appealed from a county court in a civil or criminal matter, or from a municipal court of record, to district court. The appeal rate is something on the order of 10% of cases that go to trial in county court.

District courts have general civil jurisdiction over all cases except cases subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction (i.e. almost all cases but certain intellectual property cases). District court civil cases consist mostly of breach of contract cases for amounts in excess of $15,000, personal injury cases, domestic cases and real estate disputes. The number of appeals from district court greatly exceeds the number of trials held in district court, mostly as a result of appeals of cases resolved on motions without trials and appeals of sentences imposed pursuant to plea bargains.

Federal district court civil jurisdiction is largely limited to cases where the person bringing the suit is from a different state than the person who is sue and the amount in controvesy exceeds $75,000, cases brought under federal law, and cases where the United States is a party (e.g. many student loan collections). Employment discrimination and civil rights cases make up a significant share of the federal docket. There were 444 appeals in civil cases and 121 appeals in criminal cases in the most recent year arising out of the U.S. District Court in Colorado. This exceeded the number of trials because many appeals are of cases resolved on motions without trials and appeals of sentences imposed pursuant to plea bargains.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Colorado has 1,017 "adversary proceedings" which are basically contested cases. There are no numbers on how many are resolved by evidentiary hearings, as opposed to motion practice and/or settlement.

Municipal ordinance violations outside of Denver (mostly traffic offenses) are tried in municipal courts. There is no centralized reporting of statistical information for municipal courts, and many do not even have websites.

How long are federal trials in Colorado?

1-3 days - 24
4-9 days - 10
10-19 days - 1
20+ days - 2

1-3 days - 42
4-9 days - 31
10-19 days - 4
20+ days - 0

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