December 9, 2023
The various “Stand Your Ground” statutes are some of the most controversial laws that exist in the United States. Different states call the different things, but they’re all fairly similar to the law made most famous during the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.
Essentially, they allow someone to “stand their ground” and use physical force on a person if they believe that the person is going to cause them physical harm. Supporters of “Stand Your Ground” laws argue that they allow people who are only acting in self-defense to avoid facing serious penalties for assault or battery.
While these laws have good intentions, many people treat it as a “license to kill.” Gun deaths in Florida increased 22% in the 10 years after the state enacted the law. People of color are more likely to be targeted, and their deaths are more likely to be justified due to “Stand Your Ground” laws throughout the country.
These numbers show how blurry interpretations of “self-defense” can be. If you have been charged with assault for defending yourself, you may be able to walk away without a conviction, but only if you meet the requirements of Colorado’s self-defense laws. Know what “counts” as self-defense in order to build an effective defense strategy.
Does Colorado Have a “Stand Your Ground” Law?
No. While Colorado law does address self-defense, it does not have a “Stand Your Ground” law like many other states. However, we do have something called the “Make My Day” law — we’ll delve more deeply into that later.
Additionally, similar to many “Stand Your Ground” laws, there is no obligation for a person to retreat before using physical force in defense of themselves or another under our self-defense laws. That being said, you can only use physical force (a reasonable amount of physical force) under certain circumstances.
Colorado’s Laws on Self-Defense
Colorado law says that “a person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person.”
What does that mean? Basically, if you think that someone is going to harm you or another person, you are allowed to use physical force as a defense. Aggressors, or the person who “started the fight,” may be charged with assault or other violent crimes.
Of course, this rule comes with exceptions. Don’t think you can walk away free for violently assaulting someone who only wanted to shake you up — excessive physical force is not allowed. You are only allowed to use as much physical force as is necessary to defend yourself.
In other words, if a reasonable person would believe that you could have disarmed or stopped someone from attacking you with a simple shove or light physical force, you won’t get away with shooting or fatally injuring them.
If you have the intention of causing great bodily harm or death to the other person, you may not be covered by the law either. Prosecutors will look for any threats or acts of violence that reveal your intention. Continuing to assault someone after they it is clear that they cannot hurt you, for example, may be considered a sign that you had intentions to cause serious bodily harm.
The last exception to the rule is that violence in unlawful combat is always a crime. If illegal fighting gets out of hand, all parties may be charged.
Colorado’s “Make My Day” Law
The “Make My Day” law says that “any occupant of a dwelling is justified in using any degree of physical force, including deadly physical force, against another person when that other person has made an unlawful entry into the dwelling, and when the occupant has a reasonable belief that such other person has committed a crime in the dwelling in addition to the uninvited entry, or is committing or intends to commit a crime against a person or property in addition to the uninvited entry, and when the occupant reasonably believes that such other person might use any physical force, no matter how slight, against any occupant.”
As you can see, this law has similarities to the “Stand Your Ground” law. Coloradans can use deadly physical force if they believe someone is breaking into their house to commit criminal acts. The criminal act could be robbery, rape, theft — no matter what the crime is, if they believe they will become a victim in their own home, they can use force.
Legally, you could kill someone and walk away free under this law. However, you will need to provide sufficient evidence that you believed the victim was going to commit a crime in your home or use physical force against you.
If you are using self-defense as a defense strategy, know that you will be questioned and doubted by the prosecution. Reach out to an experienced Denver defense lawyer who can help you craft a strong defense strategy to beat — or at least reduce — the charges against you.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.