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How Does The Colorado Supreme Court Work?

The Colorado Supreme Court is the highest court and hence the court of last resort in the state. It has appellate jurisdiction over cases involving:

  • Adjudication of water rights;
  • Summary proceedings originating under the election code;
  • Writs of habeas corpus;
  • Decisions of the Public Utilities Commission;
  • Prosecutorial appeals regarding search and seizure questions in unresolved criminal proceedings;
  • Any Colorado statute that has been held to be unconstitutional by a trial court.

The Colorado Supreme Court may grant or deny certiorari petitions. Certiorari petitions are appeals to the Supreme Court to review a case. In such instances, the original review must have occurred at the court of appeals or a District Court. By law, to grant a Certiorari petition, three of the Supreme Court seven justices are required to vote in favor of the review. The Colorado Supreme Court ultimately grants only a small portion of certiorari petitions.

Decisions and orders of the Colorado Supreme Court are binding on all other courts in the state. The court plays an administrative role over Colorado attorneys’ regulation and disciplinary proceedings, court rulemaking, and the state’s judicial branch’s budgeting process. The Colorado Supreme Court oversees the State Court Administrator, Board of Continuing Legal Education, Board of Law Examiners, Commission on Judicial Discipline, and Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee.

Note that the Colorado Supreme Court does not conduct trials, evidentiary, or sentencing hearings. The Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the majority of the cases decided by its judges. Oral arguments are very technical discussions of statutes and past appellate court rulings and rarely on evidence in a case. It is a presentation by an attorney to a panel of justices, summarizing legal reasons that the attorney hopes will provide a good chance of obtaining a favorable ruling for the defendant. An oral argument in the state Supreme Court lasts for 30 minutes or 60 minutes, depending on the case.

Court rulings are not issued immediately after an oral argument. Written rulings usually are issued within 270 days after the conclusion of oral arguments. Previous oral arguments of the Colorado supreme court may be accessed at the oral arguments page. Case announcements may be accessed on the supreme court case announcement page. The original proceedings under C. A. R. 21 may also be accessed on the original proceedings page of the Colorado supreme court website. About 75 to 100 opinions are written by the Colorado supreme court every year. Approximately 60% of matters appealed to the court are civil cases, while the rest 40% are criminal cases. The civil lawsuits are wide-ranging and often include matters of first impression involving issues not previously decided in Colorado.

Usually, arguments are scheduled for two or three days each month. During this period, roughly four to eight cases are heard in each court session. All seven justices of the court must decide each case unless one recuses in a specific case. A Justice may recuse or be disqualified if:

  • The offense charged is thought to have been committed against the Justice;
  • The justice is related or associated with the defendant or attorney;
  • The justice has been counsel in the case;
  • The justice is in any way prejudiced concerning the case, counsel, or parties.

Under the law, a justice who is aware of any disqualifying circumstances in a case must personally recuse from participating in the decision of the matter. Any of the parties involved in a case may also file a motion for a justice’s disqualification. Such actions are required to be supported by two affidavits.

Other than the work duties directly related to deciding cases, Supreme Court Justices participate in two or three committees that address specific matters concerning the court system or regarding the Colorado Judicial Branch administration. Branches include the Supreme Court Attorney Regulation Advisory Committee, Judicial Advisory Council, Fairness Committee, Civil Rules Committee, Criminal Rules Committee, and the Probation Advisory Committee. Supreme court justices also serve as ex-officio chairs of judicial nominating commissions and speak to legal and civil groups.

The Colorado Supreme Court comprises of seven justices elected to ten-year terms. The seven Justices select a Justice within the group to serve as Chief Justice. The Chief Justice also serves as the executive head of the Colorado Judicial System and the ex-officio chair of the court’s Nomination Commission. By right, Chief Justice appoints the Chief Judge to the Court of Appeals and District Courts and may assign active or retired judges to perform judicial duties in the state’s courts.

To be qualified for a justiceship position in the Colorado Supreme Court, an individual must be a qualified elector of Colorado and must have been licensed to practice law in the state for a minimum of five years. As a result of the supreme court handling various cases, Justices in the court are required to move from one area of law to another daily. Hence, excellent research and writing skills, decisiveness are top-demand for interested candidates. Owing to the Supreme Court’s demands, Justices are also required to make shared decisions and function effectively within court constraints.

After serving for a minimum provisional term of two years, each justice of the Supreme Court must run for retention in the next general election to continue serving on the court. Re-elected Justices serve for ten years and may run for retention again after the expiration of term. There is a mandatory retirement age of 72 for supreme court justices.

The public may attend proceedings at the Supreme Court in Colorado. Visit the court location at:

Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center

2 East 14th Avenue

Denver, CO 80203

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