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How Do Colorado Municipal Courts Work?

Colorado Municipal Courts are were established to function within local jurisdictions according to state statues. These courts only handle cases of municipal ordinance violations within the city limits. Under C. R. S. 13–10–101, municipal courts are established as courts of records and handled cases pertaining to:

  • Zoning violations
  • Traffic tickets
  • Animal control matters
  • Parking
  • Shoplifting
  • Disturbing the peace

Municipal Courts are separate from the state judicial system but are operated by the Colorado Supreme Court’s rules and procedures established by the Colorado Supreme Court. The city government usually appoints Municipal Court judges in line with its laws.

Aside from the judge in a municipal court, the city council may appoint a clerk of the court if the volume of business done by the court sufficient justifies an appointment. The duties of a municipal court and a clerk of the court are:

  • Keep a register of the actions in the court, including all fees and monies collected and an index thereof;
  • To pay over to the director of finance of the city of all fines, penalties, and fees received monthly;
  • Prepare and keep a docket for the court in which judgments in each case shall be noted.

The municipal court clerks are obligated to keep reports monthly, covering all monies collected by the court. The report must declare the total number of cases filed in the court, the dispositions, the court’s operation as the judge deems proper or as required by the council. Records of proceedings must be kept verbatim, and trial evidence either kept electronically or by stenographic means.

Municipal court clerks are also empowered to resolve uncontested traffic violations in line with the fine schedule laid down by ordinance. Resolved traffic violations must be included in the monthly report kept by the court clerk. A municipal court clerk’s other other powers and duties of a municipal court clerk ordinance or vested by a municipal judge.

Generally, municipal court judges have all judicial powers as mandated by law with regards to the operation of the specific municipal court in question, including, but not limited to:

  • The imposition of penalties and fines
  • Enforcement of the court’s orders and judgments
  • Punishment of contempt
  • Power to compel the attendances of witnesses

Other than cases which are superseded by charter or ordinance, municipal court operations, and judges’ conduct are governed by the Colorado law and the rules of the Colorado supreme court. Regular sessions for case trials concerning the violation of any city charter or ordinance are held in the municipal court if the judge determines there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed.

Special municipal court sessions may also be held at the discretion of the municipal court judge. More often than not, traffic cases in the court are heard separately from other cases. Colorado municipal courts may issue temporary and permanent civil restraining orders. The court may charge anyone who fails to comply with court orders with a contempt of court or prosecute them for a violation of a civil restraining order.

The clerk of the municipal court is assigned by default as the jury commissioner in any municipal court. In courts where a deputy clerk of the court exists, they are designated as the deputy jury commissioners. The jury commissioners keep and maintain a master jury list, which is sometimes the same as the state judicial department master jury list. Prospective jurors are prohibited from serving on a jury in Colorado Municipal Courts if such an individual is:

  • A member of a district court or county court jury panel;
  • Unable to read, speak, or understand the English language;
  • Not a United States citizen;
  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Not a resident of the city in question;
  • Disenfranchised as a result of a criminal conviction; and
  • Incapable, due to a physical or mental disability, of rendering satisfactory jury service.

Any defendant charged with a violation of city code that constitutes a jailable offense has the right to ask for a jury trial upon compliance with the provisions of the Colorado Municipal Court Rules of Procedure and state law. However, persons charged with any non-criminal traffic infraction or non-jailable offenses do not have the right to demand a trial by jury.

Individuals charged with any other offense with the possible imposition of a sentence of incarceration stemming from the same incident with no possible sentencing terms may demand a jury trial. However, such demands must be determined to be in conformance with applicable law and the Colorado Municipal Court Rules of Procedure. Such offenses are consolidated for the trial.

Municipal court defendants who plead guilty, nolo contendere, enter a plea agreement, or found guilty after trial, of a violation of city code, are assessed costs, including any law enforcement surcharges by the court. By law, the fee must not be suspended or abated unless fit is reasonable for the defendant to pay the same. The cost and amounts thereof are set by resolution of the city council.

Cases of the municipal courts in Colorado are open to the public for attendance, except where the category of crime and the case’s nature demands that persons not directly connected with the cases be excluded from the proceedings. If the municipal court judge determines that a private hearing would best serve the interest of, the court may be cleared of all persons not directly connected to the case. By law, this decision is solely at the municipal court judge’s discretion.

There are over 200 municipal courts serving the 271 incorporated communities in the state. To obtain case records, visit the locations of the courts.

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