Direct File & Transfer to Adult Court

The Colorado Juvenile Defender Center’s advocacy led to comprehensive reform of Colorado’s Direct File Law.  Since 2008, direct file has declined by 78% and adult jailing of kids has declined by 99% in Colorado.  See statistics here.

Colorado’s success was featured in the The New York Times, click here to read the New York Times article.


CJDC former Board Member, Nicole Miera, was interviewed by Ted Koppel on the jailing and suicide of her brother James Stewart on Rock Center with Brian Williams.  Ted Koppel covered the story of locking kids up in solitary confinement in adult jails.  The program aired on Rock Center with Brian Williams March 22, 2012.  You can watch the program in full here:

C.R.S. § 19-2-508 used to give prosecutors the sole power to decide whether a child is detained pre-trial in a juvenile facility or in an adult jail before trial when they are presumed innocent under the law.   Colorado law requires children be separated from adults in jails but this leads to prolonged and harmful solitary confinement.  See CJDC Report: Caging Children in Crisis.

  • THIS LAW CHANGED IN 2012 WITH THE PASSAGE OF HOUSE BILL 1139.  Now detained children who are prosecuted as adults will remain in juvenile detention facilities, unless the facility petitions the court for removal to the adult jail, and the judge holds a hearing to review information and make a determination.

Unchecked authority to prosecute children in adult court:

C.R.S. §19-2-517 used to give prosecutors the sole power to decide which children to prosecute in adult criminal court.  A 2010 bill established factors for prosecutors to consider and encourages discussion with defense counsel before making the decision.  This informal procedure was no substitute for due process in this critically important decision to remove a child from juvenile court.  See CJDC Report:  RE-DIRECTING JUSTICE.

  • THIS LAW CHANGED IN 2012 WITH THE ENACTMENT OF HOUSE BILL 1271.  The law now limits direct file eligibility to youth who are 16 years of age or older who are accused of the most serious and repeat offenses.  Youth who are direct filed can request a reverse transfer hearing and ask a judge to review whether their case should remain in adult court or transfer back to juvenile court.

Mandatory Sentencing & the Burden of Felony Convictions:

With the exception of the Youthful Offender System, criminal sentencing laws were designed for adults.  Direct file instantaneously exposes adolescents to a complex scheme of mandatory, long-term, and lifetime sentencing provisions.  Young adults are emerging from prison after serving decades of time with a felony conviction that bars housing, jobs, and benefits.  Even when a case is plea bargained to a lesser charge or a youth successfully complete the Youthful Offender System, the original felony charge cannot be sealed and appears on background checks.

  • THIS LAW CHANGED, IN PART, IN 2012 WITH HOUSE BILL 1271.  Now youth who are convicted of middle level crimes of violence are not subject to mandatory minimum sentences, youth convicted of unenumerated offenses can be sentenced as a juvenile, and youth convicted solely of misdemeanors must be adjudicated and sentenced as a juvenile.

Direct File Media Coverage:

The Denver Post: Hickenlooper signs ‘direct file’ into law that limits charging juveniles as adults, Tim Hoover, April 20, 2012

JD Journal: Colorado passes direct file to law limiting adult criminal charges on juveniles,  April 21, 2012

CBS 4 Denver: Senate Passes Bill Restricting DAs In Youth Cases, Associated Press: April 6, 2012 8:27 A.M.,

Aurora Sentinel: Senate passes bill restricting DAs in youth cases, Associated Press, April 6, 2012 6:45 A.M.,

The Denver Post: Trust judges with juvenile placements, Marc Levin and Mike Krause, April 6, 2012 1:00 A.M.,

The Denver Post: Colorado bill limiting ability to charge young offenders as adults heads to governor, Lynn Bartels, April 6, 2012 1:00 A.M.,

The Pueblo Chieftain: Adult charges against juvies put in judges’ hands, Patrick Malone, April 6, 2012 12:00 A.M.,

The Daily Camera: Colorado bill restricting DA power in juvenile cases passes, Ivan Moreno April 5, 2012 11:49 P.M.,

KDVR 31: “Direct File” reform bill advances, despite fight from DA’s, Eli Stokols, April 5, 2012 6:51 P.M.,

Colorado Spring Gazette: Bill would change age for juveniles to be charged as adults, John Schroyer, April 5, 2012 4:43 P.M.,

The Huffington Post: HB 1271 Calls For More Oversight In Direct File Cases, Heads To Gov. Hickenlooper For Signing, Andrea Rael, April 5, 2012, 3:50 P.M.,

KDVR 31: Direct File Reform Passes Senate, heads to Hickenlooper, Eli Stokols, April 5, 2012 11:39 A.M.,

The Denver Post: Bill to reduce Colorado prosecutors’ power to charge youths as adults advances, Ivan Moreno, April 5, 2012, 1:00 A.M.,

The Pueblo Chieftan: Juvenile charges bill almost at gov.’s desk, Patrick Malone, April 5, 2012 12:00 A.M.,

Chosocton tribute:Bill to reduce DA’s power to charge youth debated, Ivan Moreno, April 4, 2012,

Post Crescent: Bill to reduce DA’s power to charge youth debated, Ivan Moreno, April 4, 2012,

The Republic: Lawmakers debate bill to reduce Colo. DA’s power to charge youth as adults, Ivan Moreno, April 4, 2012,–Youths-In-Prison/

The Mansfield  News Journal: Bill to reduce DA’s power to charge youth debated, Ivan Moreno, April 4, 2012 3:28 P.M.,

KDVR 31: Senate takes up Direct File reform bill, Eli Stokols, April 4, 2012 1028 A.M.,

CW 2: Senate takes up Direct File reform bill, Eli Stokols, April 4, 2012 1028 A.M.,

The Daily Sentinal: Juvenile-crime bill advances in Senate: Measure would put limits on how prosecutors charge young offenders, Charles Ashby, April 4, 2012,

The Pueblo Chieftan: DA’s role in juvenile crime may shift, Patrick Malone, March 27, 2012 at 12:00 A.M.,

KDVR 31: “Direct File” reform bill advances, despite fight from DA’s, Eli Stokles,  March 26, 2012 9:14 P.M.,

Huff Post: The Blog: Justice for All: Reforming Colorado’s Juvenile Direct File Provision, Kim Dvorchak, March 26, 2012, 1:56 P.M.,

The New York Times: Colorado Revisits Law That Gives Prosecutors Wide Power to Try Youths as Adults, Dan Frosch, March 26, 2012,

AM760: David Sirota Tuesday March 26, 2012,

The Denver Post: Carroll: Lions, Tigers, and Judges, oh my, Vincent Carroll, March 25, 2012, 1:00 A.M.,

The Daily Camera: District Attorney: Reviewing decisions to charge children as adults, Stan Garnett, March 25 2012, 1:00A.M.,

Denver Post: Colorado House passes bill shifting power to try teens as adults, Jessica Fender, March 20, 2012 1:00 A.M.,

CPR: A Way Out for Juvenile Offenders, Andrea Dukakis, March 20, 2012,

The Denver Post: Reforming Colorado’s juvenile justice policy, DP Opinion, March 20, 2012,

KDVR31: House approves juvenile justice, fetal homicide measures, Eli Stokols, March 16, 2012 2:29 P.M.,

CBS 4: DA’s Authority In Colorado Juvenile Cases Debated, Associated Press, March 16, 2012 3:12 P.M.,

The Republic: Colo. bill to reduce prosecutor’s power in charging juveniles as adults gets OK in full House, Ivan Moreno, March 16, 2012 6:04 P.M.,–Youths-In-Prison/

NECN.COM: House debates DA’s authority in CO juvenile cases, Associated Press, March 16, 2012 6:04 P.M.,

Why Colorado Should Reform Juvenile Justice, Including ‘Direct File,’ Now, Natasha Gardner, March 15, 2012 6:27 P.M.,

5280: Opinion: Why Colorado Should Reform Juvenile Justice Now, Natasha Gardner, March 15, 2012 3:49,

The Denver Post: Colo. lawmakers review adult charges for youth, Ivan Moreno, March 11, 2012 6:03 A.M.,

Associated Press: Colo. lawmakers review adult charges for youth, Ivan Moreno, March 11, 2012 8:01 A.M.,

ABC 7: Lawmakers Review Adult Charges for Youth, Justin Adams: March 11, 2012 10:26 A.M.,

Wausau Daily Herald: Colo. lawmakers review adult charges for youth, Ivan Moreno, March 11, 2012 12:56 P.M.,

KDVR 31 and KWGN 2: Juvenile justice reform bill clears big test, Posted on: 10:41 am, March 8, 2012, by Eli Stokols, ,

Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Think Outside the Cage: Juvenile Justice Reform Bill Clears Committee, Thursday, March 08, 2012,

CBS 4: Prosecutors’ Deciding To Charge Children As Adults Comes Under Fire, Shaun Boyd, March 7, 2012 7:55 PM,

Westword:  Juveniles prosecuted as adults: Colorado’s hardline approach not working, report says, By Alan Prendergast Tue., Mar. 6 2012 at 2:59 PM,

TrustLaw: US/Colorado: Assembly Acts to Protect Youth Accused of Crimes, 06 Mar 2012 18:25,

CPR: The Girl Who Fell to Earth, David Hill, February 23, 2012,


Perspective Section:  Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reforming Colorado’s juvenile justice policies

Re:  “Too soon to overhaul juvenile justice again,” March 11 editorial

Currently in Colorado, a prosecutor makes the decision to charge a youth in adult criminal court by directly filing a case in adult court. This decision, which determines whether a juvenile will be sentenced to the adult prison system or the juvenile correctional system, is never reviewed by a  judge.

We are proud to sponsor the bipartisan House Bill 1291, which lets a juvenile judge deice whether 14- and 15-year-olds should be prosecuted in adult court. For 16- and 17-year-olds, prosecutors can still file directly in adult court, but the defense can ask a judge to review to evidence and make the decision. We believe this is fair.

The state’s adult correctional facilities are dangerously ill-equipped for youth offenders, who are at greatest risk of sexual abuse and victimization. We believe the crucial decision regarding the proper venue for criminal prosecution of a juvenile should be made by a judge after a hearing.

HB 1271 will preserve public safety. Those who should be tried in adult court will be; those who should have the opportunity to be rehabilitated in a juvenile facility will be given that chance in a safer environment.

It is essential that we reform our juvenile justice policies to promote better outcomes for the youthful offenders who will eventually re-enter our society.

State Rep. B.J. Nikkel, Loveland

State Rep. Beth McCann, Denver


Prior CJDC News:

5280 Magazine Story, Direct Fail, December 2012.

Denver Post, Letters, Wise Decision by DA in case of 12 Year Old, August 31, 2011.

Colorado Public Radio, Colorado Matters, Children in Prison, June 23, 2011.

Valley Courier, Teen Sentenced to 22 Years for Killing Stepfather, 6 for Killing Mother, June 8, 2011.

Denver Post, DA Considering Whether to Charge Burlington Boy, 12 as Adult in Parents’ Death, March 4, 2011.

Colorado Public Radio, Colorado Matters, Juveniles in Jail May Get an Education, May 10, 2010.

Westword, Children Behind Bars, April, 21, 2010.

The Colorado Independent, Colorado Minority Youth Disproportionately Charged As Adults, May 5, 2010.

Juvenile Justice Matters, Blog Talk Radio, September 10, 2009.

Panel   Hannah and Elise   Panel 3

On October 29, 2015 CJDC release our new report on the impact of direct file reform, “Justice Redirected: The Impact of Reducing the Prosecution of Children as Adults in Colorado and the Continuing Need for Sentencing Reform.” The executive summary outlines CJDC’s key findings, supplemental findings, and recommendations for continuing reform. Download the full report here.

The report was released at a luncheon featuring a panel discussion moderated by CJDC’s Director of Juvenile Policy, Hannah Seigel Proff, and featuring the Executive Director of the Campaign for Youth Justice, Marcy Mistrett; two representatives who spearheaded direct file reform in Colorado, Representatives B.J. Nichols and Claire Levy; and the State Training Director for Juvenile Defense from Colorado’s Office of the State Public Defender, Ann Roan.



The Consequences of Prosecuting Youth as Adults

and the Need to Restore Judicial Oversight

A Special Report by the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition





Direct File is a law that gives prosecutors unilateral discretion to file charges against children in adult criminal court.

Key Findings:

Contrary to popular belief that direct file is only used on the most serious cases, prosecutors are more often direct filing mid-level felony cases.  Only 15% of direct file cases are homicides, and only 5% of cases are charged as first degree murder (only 8 of 84 first-degree murder charges resulted in a first-degree murder conviction).

The vast majority of direct filed youth never have their case reviewed by a judge or jury.  95% of cases are plea-bargained.  Only 28% of direct file cases are convicted of the highest offense charged, and 22% of cases are dismissed.

Direct file disproportionately affects children of color.  82% of admissions to the Youthful Offender System in 2009-2010 were black and Hispanic youth.  In contrast, 75% of dismissed cases were white youth.

The direct-file law has been used to try thousands of Colorado youth as adults, inappropriately incarcerate them in adult jails and prisons, and mark them with lifelong felony convictions.  A large body of research shows that prosecuting children as adults is counterproductive to community safety because youth are less likely to be rehabilitated and become productive members of society.


  1. Restore authority over whether a youth should be tried in criminal court to juvenile court judges to ensure constitutional due process and better outcomes for kids and families.
  2. If direct file laws are maintained, raise the age limit to 16 and over, restrict criteria to the most serious cases and provide juveniles an opportunity to request transfer back to juvenile court.
  3. Create a separate sentencing scheme for juveniles in adult court.
  4. Keep youth out of adult jails.
  5. Provide opportunities for youth convicted as adults to earn the ability to seal criminal convictions.
  6. Improve data collection.  Provide comprehensive reports on the impact, cost and effectiveness of prosecuting children as adults.