Colorado Domestic Violence Laws

By , Contributing Author

In Colorado, domestic violence laws prohibit physical acts of violence against people and property under certain circumstances. For a violent act to qualify as a crime involving domestic violence, the aggressor and the victim must share or have shared an intimate relationship, as defined by statute.

Help—and a Warning—for Domestic Violence Victims

If you need help, this list of resources for crime victims includes links to several organizations that assist domestic violence victims or that can connect you with local resources. But consider how private your computer, Internet, and phone use are, and what you can do to prevent your abuser from learning that you're doing research or seeking help, especially if that person could gain access to your device or phone history. You should at least clear your browsing history after searching online, but you might consider using a friend's device or a computer at the library or a friend's device.

Domestic Violence Defined

Colorado defines domestic violence as an act of violence or threat of violence against a person with whom the aggressor has or had an intimate relationship. Domestic violence also includes any other crime or municipal ordinance violation committed against a third party or against property for the purpose of coercion, control, punishment, intimidation, or revenge directed at a person with whom the aggressor has or had an intimate relationship. For example, an aggressor who vandalizes an ex-spouse's car with the purpose of intimidating the ex-spouse is guilty of a crime involving domestic violence.

In order for the offense to be considered a crime involving domestic violence, the parties must be in or have been in an intimate relationship. "Intimate relationship" means a relationship between one of the following groups:

  • current or former spouses
  • current or former unmarried couples, and
  • parents of the same child, regardless of whether the parents were ever married or resided together.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6-800.3.)

Penalties for a Domestic Violence Conviction

Domestic violence is not punished as a separate offense from the underlying violent act. Where a defendant is convicted of an offense and the court finds that the crime involved domestic violence, the court will sentence the defendant for the offense (assault, for example,) but also require the defendant to complete a domestic violence treatment program and receive a treatment evaluation.

Evaluation Before Sentencing

The court may also order that a convicted defendant be evaluated prior to sentencing if the court believes that an evaluation will assist the court in determining an appropriate sentence. A defendant convicted of an offense involving domestic violence who is sentenced to prison is not required to complete a treatment program.

Repeat Offenders

A defendant who has three prior convictions for crimes involving domestic violence, who is convicted of a new offense involving domestic violence that would otherwise be a misdemeanor, faces increased penalties. The prosecutor may petition the court to have the defendant declared a habitual domestic violence offender. Furthermore, instead of being treated as a misdemeanor, the new offense is punished as a Class 5 felony, which carries a maximum of four years imprisonment. (Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-1.3-401, 18-6-801)

Police Duties in Domestic Violence Cases

Colorado law requires a police officer to make an arrest where probable cause exists that a domestic violence offense has been committed. An officer does not have to make an arrest in a domestic violence investigation where the persons involved each claim that the other was the aggressor. The officer is required to determine if one or more of the persons committed a crime and is required to consider the following:

  • any prior complaints of domestic violence
  • the relative severity of injuries inflicted on each person
  • the likelihood of future injury to each person, and
  • whether one of the persons acted in self-defense.

The arresting agency must preserve pertinent evidence, such as dispatch tapes, any on-scene audio or video recordings, medical records, physical evidence, and witness statements. The officer must also indicate in the incident report whether any children heard or saw the offense.

Colorado law also requires a police officer to make an arrest when the officer has probable cause to believe that a person restrained by a protective order has violated the order. If arrest is impractical, the officer may seek a warrant. The arresting agency must attempt to notify the person protected by the order that the restrained person is under arrest (Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-6-803.5, 803.6)

Protective Orders

Any municipal, county, district, juvenile, or probate court may issue a civil protective order to prevent domestic abuse. Protective orders may restrain a defendant from harming, threatening or having any contact with the protected person or persons. A court may issue any additional orders it deems necessary to protect persons, such as excluding the defendant from the family home or awarding temporary care and control of minor children. (Colorado law also allows a different type of restraining order—extreme risk protection orders—to require gun owners at risk of gun violence to surrender their firearms.)

How Colorado Judges Issue Protective Orders

A judge issues a "temporary civil protective order" when, after considering written or oral evidence, the judge finds that an imminent danger exists to the person or persons seeking the order. When the judge writes the temporary protective order, the court issues a citation to the defendant, ordering the defendant to appear for a hearing.

After conducting the hearing, the court may make the temporary order a permanent order of protection if it determines that the defendant:

  • committed acts constituting grounds for issuance of a protective order, and
  • will continue to commit such acts unless restrained.

Violating a Protective Order in Colorado

Violating a civil protective order is a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail or a $250 fine, or both. If the defendant has previously been convicted of violating a protective order, the new violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $500 fine. (Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-14-102, 18-1.3-501, 18-6-803.5)

Consult a Lawyer

If you are charged with a crime involving domestic violence, you should consult with 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. A lawyer will guide you throughout the process, whether your case is dismissed, resolved through a plea agreement, or proceeds to trial.

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