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What Does It Mean to be a Habitual Offender in Colorado?

Posted on March 29, 2023

Under Colorado law, a person can be considered a habitual offender if they have been convicted of three or more felonies committed on separate occasions within a period of ten years. The ten years is calculated from the date of the first offense to the date of the most recent crime. This is also known as Colorado’s “three-strikes law.”

Colorado’s Three Strikes Law

Habitual criminal offenders can receive a life sentence if they are convicted of the following:

  • A class 1 or 2 felony, level 1 drug felony, or class 3 felony that is a crime of violence; and
  • Has received two previous convictions for any of the above offenses.

A fourth felony conviction is punishable by a sentence of four times the maximum presumptive range for the felony they are convicted of. In addition, individuals with previous convictions of a class 1-5 felony or level 1-3 drug felony can also be considered habitual offenders if they receive a third felony conviction within 10 years.

Types of Habitual Offender Crimes in Colorado

There is no specific list, but some of the most common types of felony offenses that can lead to habitual offender status in Colorado include:

  • Drug offenses: Felony drug offenses such as possession, distribution, or manufacturing of controlled substances are common charges that can lead to habitual offender status.
  • Property crimes: Felony property crimes such as burglary, robbery, theft, and fraud.
  • Violent crimes: Felony violent crimes such as assault, manslaughter, and murder.
  • Sex offenses: Felony sex offenses such as sexual assault, sexual exploitation of a child, and indecent exposure.

The above list is not exhaustive, and any felony offense can lead to habitual offender status if the person has been convicted of three or more such crimes within a ten-year period.

Experienced Defense Counsel Is Critical

An experienced criminal defense attorney can be crucial in preventing you from receiving habitual offender status in Colorado. Here are some ways that an attorney can help:

Challenge Prior Convictions

A skilled criminal defense attorney will carefully review your prior convictions to determine if they are legally valid. If there is a legal issue with any of them, such as an invalid plea or an unconstitutional search and seizure, your attorney may be able to challenge the conviction and have it overturned. If a prior conviction is successfully challenged and vacated, it will not count towards your habitual offender status.

Negotiate a Plea Deal

If you are facing felony charges and have a history of prior convictions, your attorney may be able to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor to reduce the charges or avoid habitual offender status. A plea deal can involve pleading guilty to a lesser charge or agreeing to a sentence that does not include habitual offender status.

Challenge the Designation

Your attorney can challenge the designation by arguing that one or more of your prior convictions do not qualify or that the court should exercise discretion in your case. For example, your attorney may argue that the prior convictions were relatively minor or that you have turned your life around and are not likely to re-offend.

Present Mitigating Evidence

Your attorney can present evidence of mitigating factors that may help reduce the severity of the charges or the likelihood of habitual offender status. Mitigating factors can include a difficult childhood, mental health issues, addiction, etc.

If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges in Colorado and has a history of prior felony convictions, schedule a free consultation with an experienced Breckenridge criminal defense attorney who can help protect your rights and advocate on your behalf.