Colorado Assault Laws and Penalties

Colorado has three degrees of assault, with first-degree assault being the most serious and third-degree the least.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 4/11/2023

Colorado has three degrees of assault—with first-degree being the most serious and the third-degree the least. Unlike some other states, Colorado doesn't use the term "aggravated assault" or have a crime specific to "assault with a deadly weapon." In fact, all three degrees of assault can involve a deadly weapon. The state also doesn't have a battery offense.

Below, we review the various degrees of assault and their possible penalties in Colorado.

Understanding Assault Charges in Colorado

In Colorado, a person commits assault by causing another bodily injury. The penalties for assault vary depending on the level of harm inflicted or intended, the defendant's state of mind, and whether the defendant had a deadly weapon or knowingly targeted a protected class of victims. Strangulation falls under the definition of assault, as well.

Defining Bodily Injury and Deadly Weapons

Key considerations in assault charges are the level of harm inflicted or intended and the presence of a deadly weapon. Below are the definitions of bodily injury, serious bodily injury, and deadly weapon.

Bodily injury refers to any physical pain or impairment of a physical or mental condition, however slight. Examples include cuts, scratches, and bruises.

Serious bodily injuries involve a substantial risk of death, permanent disfigurement, or prolonged loss or impairment of any bodily part. It also includes broken bones, fractures, and second- and third-degree burns. Serious lacerations requiring stitches, injuries prone to infections, bullet wounds, and injuries requiring surgery are all examples of serious bodily injuries.

Deadly weapons include firearms (loaded or unloaded), knives, poison, or any item or substance that's capable of causing death or serious bodily injuries by the way in which it's used. Examples include bats, clubs, crowbars, steel-toed boots, and cleaning chemicals.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1-901 (2022).)

Defining Strangulation

Strangulation is considered a felony assault if it results in injuries. A person commits strangulation by applying pressure to a victim's neck or by blocking the victim's nose or mouth, in an effort to impede breathing or circulation.

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

What Are the Penalties for First-Degree Assault in Colorado?

Colorado's most serious assault crime is first-degree assault—a felony.

A person commits assault in the first degree by causing a victim serious bodily injuries under the following circumstances:

  • intentionally and by means of a deadly weapon or strangulation
  • when intending to seriously disfigure or disable the victim and doing so, or
  • by engaging in conduct that shows an extreme indifference to human life and creates a grave risk of death.

Threatening a police officer, firefighter, emergency medical provider, judge, or correctional employee with a deadly weapon is also first-degree assault if the defendant's intent was to cause serious bodily injuries. (It doesn't matter that no injury actually results.)

First-degree assault is a "crime of violence" and subject to mandatory minimum penalties. The penalty for first-degree assault is typically a class 3 felony, punishable by a minimum of 10 years and up to 32 years in prison. However, if the defendant acted in a heat of passion, the penalty decreases to a class 5 felony, which carries 30 months to 8 years of prison time.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-1.3-401, 18-1.3-406, 18-3-202 (2022).)

What Are the Penalties for Second-Degree Assault in Colorado?

Second-degree assault occurs in several instances.

  • A person who causes another bodily injury by means of a deadly weapon or strangulation commits second-degree assault.
  • Drugging or intoxicating someone without their consent to render them unconscious or impaired is another form of assault in the second degree.
  • Directing certain unlawful acts at police officers, firefighters, emergency medical service providers, and correctional employees is considered second-degree assault if done with the intent of obstructing their duties or to harm or harass them. These unlawful acts include applying violent force to the victim or causing the victim to come into contact with another's bodily fluids, blood, or feces, or any toxic substance.

Second-degree assault also carries mandatory minimum sentences as a "crime of violence." A convicted defendant faces a class 4 felony with penalties of 5 to 16 years of incarceration. If the defendant acted under a sudden heat of passion, the offense is a class 6 felony, punishable by 18 months to 4 years' prison time.

Penalties for second-degree assault can also increase to a class 3 felony if the assault happened as part of another offense (such as robbery, sexual assault, or kidnapping) and the victim suffered serious bodily injuries.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-1.3-401, 18-1.3-406, 18-3-203 (2022).)

What Are the Penalties for Third-Degree Assault in Colorado?

Third-degree assault is a class 1 misdemeanor. A person commits assault in the third degree by:

  • knowingly or recklessly causing another bodily harm
  • negligently causing another harm with a deadly weapon, or
  • harassing a police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical service provider by spitting or throwing bodily fluids, blood, or feces at them.

A person convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor faces a maximum of 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-3-204 (2022).)

Enhanced Penalties for Assault Crimes in Colorado

Colorado imposes enhanced penalties for assault crimes committed against certain victims and for repeat offenders.

Enhanced Penalties for Assault of At-Risk Adults

Any person who commits an assault crime against an at-risk adult faces the next higher penalty level. So, for example, a class 3 felony becomes a class 2 felony and a class 1 misdemeanor becomes a class 6 felony. The law defines at-risk adults to include adults age 70 or older and adults age 18 or older who have a disability.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6.5-103 (2022).)

Mandatory Prison Sentence for Assault of First Responders

Committing a felony assault resulting in serious bodily injuries means prison time when the victim is a police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical service provider. A judge must sentence the person to prison, rather than allowing probation or other sentencing alternatives.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-401 (2022).)

Repeat or Habitual Felony Offender Sentencing

Habitual felony offenders can end up with a life sentence or triple the underlying sentence term. Life sentences apply when to habitual felony offenders on their third conviction for any combination of a class 1 or 2 felony, level 1 drug felony, or class 3 felony crime of violence. Any third felony conviction in 10 years results in a tripling of the sentence.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-801 (2022).)

What Are Defenses to Assault Charges in Colorado?

Defendants charged with assault may try to raise a defense to the charges or challenge the prosecution's case.

A defendant might claim self-defense or defense of others if the alleged victim started the altercation or was about to. To be successful, the defendant can only use as much force as is reasonably necessary to defend the attack. However, a person cannot claim that they acted in self-defense or under the heat of passion based on the discovery of the victim's gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or gender expression. (Colorado law specifically prohibits the use of the "gay-panic defense.")

The defense might also try to poke holes in the prosecution's case by arguing the prosecution failed to prove the required intent or injuries. In this case, the defense might be able to get the charges dismissed or reduced to a lower degree.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-1-704, 18-3-202, 18-3-203 (2022).)

Get Legal Help

If you're facing an investigation or charges for assault, contact a criminal defense attorney. Felony assault is considered a crime of violence in Colorado and carries stiff sentences. Even a misdemeanor (third-degree) assault conviction comes with long-lasting repercussions. Having any criminal record of assault can make it extremely difficult to get a job or housing or get into school.

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