Understanding Colorado’s Sentencing Guidelines

When a person is convicted of or pleads guilty to a felony, misdemeanor, or drug offense in Colorado, they will receive a sentence as punishment. Sentences are the legal consequences of committing crimes. The Colorado Legislature has provided guidelines for judges to use when imposing sentences. The guidelines prescribe standard ranges of penalties for each classification and degree of crime. Certain factors and circumstances will justify imposing sentences outside of the standard range – whether increasing the penalty or permitting an alternative disposition. Judges generally have wide latitude when imposing sentences, and an imposed sentence is rarely set aside unless there has been a clear abuse of discretion.

Presumptive Sentencing

The Colorado Criminal Code lists presumptive sentencing ranges for each class of felony and misdemeanor. The ranges give minimum and maximum periods of incarceration and fine amounts. A mandatory parole period may also be indicated.


There are six classifications of felonies. The minimum sentence for a class 1 felony is life in prison. The maximum sentence is death. The minimum sentence for a class 2 felony is 8 years and/or a $5,000 fine. The maximum sentence is 24 years and/or a $1,000,000 fine. Mandatory parole is 5 years.  Certain special circumstances are justification for imposing a sentence beyond the presumptive range for felonies.

  • Extraordinary risk of harm to society
  • Extraordinary aggravating or mitigating circumstances
  • Crime victim was a specific type of person
  • Crimes of violence
  • Crime has sentence-enhancing circumstances
  • Habitual offenders


There are three classes of misdemeanors. The minimum sentence for a class 1 misdemeanor is 6 months in jail and/or a $500 fine. The maximum sentence is 18 months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine. The minimum sentence for a class 3 misdemeanor is a $50 fine.  Misdemeanor sentences can also be enhanced beyond the presumptive range for two types of special circumstances – an extraordinary risk of harm to society and when the crime involves a specific type of victim.

Drug Offenses

Drug offenses are classified as drug felonies and drug misdemeanors. The presumptive range for a class 1 drug felony is 8 to 32 years in prison and/or a fine of $5,000 to $1,000,000. Sentences for drug felonies classes 2 through 4 can be enhanced if certain aggravating factors are present.  A class 1 drug misdemeanor has a presumptive range of 6 to 18 months in jail and/or fines between $500 and $5,000.

Sentencing Alternatives 

Convictions of felonies or misdemeanors don’t always result in incarceration and fines. There are alternative dispositions judges can impose if qualifying circumstances are met. Crimes that may qualify for sentencing alternatives are less serious, non-violent, and often committed by first-time offenders.  Sentencing alternatives available in Colorado can include:

  • Probation
  • Deferred judgment and sentence
  • Home detention
  • Community service programs
  • Community corrections programs

Fight to Minimize Your Sentence

Circumstances can make a difference when it comes to criminal sentencing. The information presented to the judge during the sentencing hearing can be very persuasive in obtaining a more favorable sentence and possibly even result in the dismissal of the charges. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help ensure all mitigating circumstances are considered and advocate for appropriate alternatives.  At The Harrell Law Firm, PLLC, our practice is dedicated to defending clients accused of crimes in Colorado. Check our client reviews and then schedule a free consultation so we can help you achieve the best resolution.