Colorado Domestic Violence Laws

Learn how Colorado laws punish domestic violence and deter future acts of violence.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated April 07, 2023

Colorado's domestic violence laws focus primarily on preventing future violence through mandatory protection orders, firearm restrictions, bail conditions, and sentencing enhancements. Any crime can be considered a domestic violence crime in Colorado based on the defendant's intent and relationship to the victim.

What Is Domestic Violence in Colorado?

Colorado law defines what acts constitute domestic violence and by whom.

Domestic violence includes any of the following:

  • any act or threatened act of violence directed against an intimate partner, or
  • any crime committed against person or property (including a pet) as a way to coerce, control, punish, intimidate, or threaten an intimate partner.

Intimate partners. Persons in intimate relationships include:

  • spouses and former spouses
  • current and former unmarried couples, and
  • persons who share a child.

Common domestic violence crimes include assault, strangulation, stalking, harassment, sexual assault, arson, criminal mischief, trespassing, and protection order violations. Any of these or other crimes committed against an intimate partner are considered domestic violence crimes.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6-800.3 (2022).)

What Are the Penalties for Domestic Violence Crimes in Colorado?

While Colorado law doesn't limit domestic violence to certain crimes, some of the most commonly prosecuted domestic violence crimes include assault, strangulation, stalking, and protection order violations.

Penalties for Domestic Assault

A person commits assault by causing another bodily injury. Assault penalties vary depending on the level of harm inflicted, the defendant's state of mind, and whether the defendant used a deadly weapon. Colorado has three degrees of assault—first-degree being the most serious and third-degree the least.

First- and second-degree assaults are both felony-level offenses with penalties ranging from a class 3 to class 6 felony. These crimes typically involve serious bodily injuries to a victim, the use of a deadly weapon, reckless or intentional acts by the defendant, or a combination of these.

Third-degree assault is a class 1 misdemeanor. A person who inflicts bodily harm on another knowingly or recklessly commits this crime. However, a person who commits third-degree assault will face class 5 felony penalties if they have three or more prior domestic violence convictions. (See "Enhanced Penalties" section below.)

(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-3-202, 18-3-203, 18-3-204, 18-6-801 (2022).)

Penalties for Strangulation

Strangulation crimes fall under the crimes of first- and second-degree assaults, with penalties ranging from a class 3 to class 6 felony. It's considered a first-degree assault if the crime results in serious bodily injuries. If bodily injuries result, the crime is second-degree assault. Strangulation occurs when a defendant tries to impede another's breathing or blood circulation by applying pressure to their neck or by blocking their nose or mouth.

Penalties for Violation of a Protection Order

Protection orders direct a defendant to stay away from and not have any contact with a victim or protected person. These orders can be issued as part of a criminal case or a victim can request an order in civil court.

A defendant who violates a protection order commits a class 2 misdemeanor. However, the penalty bumps up to a class 1 misdemeanor if:

  • the defendant has prior protection order violations
  • the protected party is an intimate partner
  • the court issued the order based on the defendant's pending charges for domestic violence, or
  • the defendant stalked the protected party.

If the defendant has three prior domestic violence convictions, a misdemeanor stalking offense increases to a class 5 felony. (See "Enhanced Penalties" section below.)

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6-803.5 (2022).)

Stalking Penalties

Stalking is another common domestic violence crime. A first stalking offense carries class 5 felony penalties. The penalty increases to a class 4 felony for subsequent convictions and offenses committed while a defendant is under court order not to contact the victim.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-3-602 (2022).)

Enhanced Penalties for Repeat Domestic Violence Crimes

Colorado law increases a misdemeanor penalty to a class 5 felony if:

  • the current crime is an act of domestic violence, and
  • the defendant has three or more previous convictions for acts of domestic violence.

These offenses don't need to be against the same victim.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6-801 (2022).)

How Does Domestic Violence Sentencing Work in Colorado?

As noted above, Colorado doesn't have specific domestic violence crimes. Rather, certain provisions of the law kick in for any crime that includes an act of domestic violence, including plea restrictions, sentencing requirements, and firearm restrictions.

Plea Restrictions in Domestic Violence Cases

A judge cannot accept any guilty plea or plea of no contest in a domestic violence case that doesn't include a designation that the crime involved an act of domestic violence. Domestic violence designations are used by probation, pretrial services, judges, and other agencies when making decisions for the current offense and any future offenses.

Sentencing in Domestic Violence Cases

When sentencing a defendant convicted of a crime of domestic violence, a judge:

  • may order the defendant to complete a treatment program
  • may deny home detention as a sentencing alternative if the defendant lives with the victim, and
  • must consider the safety of the victim and any children before permitting a defendant to be placed on probation.

Firearm Restrictions in Domestic Violence Cases

Upon conviction for a misdemeanor or felony crime of domestic violence, the judge must also order the defendant to:

  • surrender any firearms or ammunition in the defendant's control, and
  • refrain from possessing or purchasing any firearms or ammunition until completion of the sentence.

A judge can also order a defendant to arrange for the surrender of any firearms and ammunition before being released from custody. A hearing must be scheduled in any of these cases to ensure compliance. Violations of these orders can result in criminal penalties, arrest, and contempt.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-8-801 (2022).)

What Are Colorado's Arrest and Bail Policies for Domestic Violence Cases?

Defendants charged with a crime that includes an act of domestic violence also face certain arrest, bail, and pretrial release conditions.

Mandatory Arrest Provisions for Acts of Domestic Violence

Colorado requires police officers to arrest an alleged offender in cases of suspected domestic violence or protection order violations. When filling out the arrest report, the officer must note whether a child may have witnessed the alleged offense.

Pretrial Release, Bail, and Protection Orders in Domestic Violence Cases

Defendants charged with alleged acts of domestic violence are prohibited from intimidating, retaliating against, harming, or threatening the victim. A judge may also order the defendant to:

  • move out of the victim's home
  • stay away from the victim
  • refrain from contacting the victim
  • abstain from alcohol and drugs, and
  • not possess any firearms.

Violating these orders can subject the defendant to arrest and additional criminal charges.

Before a defendant may be released on bail in a domestic violence case, the prosecuting attorney must notify the victim and tell them that a protection order is in place. The court must also place the defendant on the record acknowledging the terms of the protection order.

Firearms Relinquishment

As part of the mandatory protection order described above, the judge may also require the defendant to surrender any firearms or ammunition in their possession. The judge can order all firearms surrendered as a condition of release.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 16-3-105, 16-4-105, 18-1-1001, 18-6-803.6 (2022).)

Consult a Lawyer

If you are charged with a crime involving domestic violence, consult a lawyer experienced in handling such cases. Colorado broadly defines domestic violence, and conviction for a crime involving domestic violence can carry serious consequences. A lawyer can evaluate your case and advise you of available defenses.

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